India, US discuss free Indo-Pacific, cooperation in defence, trade

Singapore (IANS): India and the US on Wednesday discussed their roles in a free Indo-Pacific region and cooperation in defence and trade sectors during a meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US Vice President Mike Pence on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit here.

Briefing the media here following the meeting, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said that Modi referred to his speech in Singapore in June at the Shangri-La Dialogue in which he had outlined India's vision of the Indo-Pacific. 

"We conveyed to Vice President Pence that his (Modi's) vision of Indo-Pacific was gaining acceptability and that we should utilise the upcoming East Asia Summit to further build up on that," Gokhale said. 

"Vice President Pence also spoke of a free and open Indo-Pacific," he said. 

"He felt that India's contribution in ensuring this would be important and we then discussed how both sides can strengthen cooperation in this area to ensure that this is an area of growth, of prosperity, of development and of benefit for the countries of the region in the future."

India and the US, along with Japan and Australia, are part of a quad revived in 2017 that seeks to work for peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region.

Gokhale said that trade-related matters also came up for a brief discussion during the Modi-Pence meeting.

"Prime Minister remarked that in the last two years, i.e. the two years when President Trump assumed office, American exports to India have grown by 50 per cent," he said. 

"It is perhaps one of the countries, perhaps the only one, of the top 10 countries with which the United States has a trade deficit where the deficit has actually reduced last year and is on course to further reduce this year and this is important from the perspective of the United States." 

With India starting to import oil and gas from the US, there was a lot of discussion on energy cooperation as well. 

"We have begun importing oil and gas from United States," the Foreign Secretary said. 

"It is expected to be valued about $4 billion this year and we expressed our readiness to import more oil and more gas from the United States as a way of expanding our trade," he stated. 

Gokhale said that another area which both sides felt would be important on the economic front would be the defence sector. 

"There of course both sides agreed that there had been a substantial enhancement in our defence relationship, in our imports of equipment from the United States but Prime Minister in particular stressed that there was a great opportunity for United States in India in making defence equipment and setting up defence industry in India," he said. 

"Not only that India is a substantial market but because the way we are placed regionally we can become a hub for exports to the rest of the region."

According to Gokhale, "there was appreciation of the outcomes of the recently held Ministerial 2+2 and on the follow up to the 2+2, both on the foreign policy side and on the defence side".

The first ever India-US 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue was held in New Delhi in September which was attended by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Jim Mattis. 

The Foreign Secretary said that there was some discussion on the issue of terrorism and Pence referred to the coming 10th anniversary of the 2008 Mumbai Terror Attacks. 

"In this context he greatly appreciated the cooperation which has been built between the United States and India on counter-terrorism and in response, the Prime Minister, while thanking him for these words also reminded him that in one way or another all the traces or all the leads in global terror attacks ultimately leads to a single source, a single place of origin and in that context he did point out that the mainstreaming of the people involved in Mumbai terror attacks in a political process which had taken place in a recent election in Pakistan should be a matter of serious concern not just to our two countries but to the international community."

This was a reference to the Mumbai terror attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed's party contesting the general elections in Pakistan in July. 

According to Gokhale, Modi appreciated US President Donald Trump's hosting of a Diwali event at the White House and in this connection, there was a discussion on the contributions that have been made by the Americans of Indian origin, "the Indian-American community for the last three decades economically, culturally, in terms of integration, in terms of building or helping the building of democracy and in this context Prime Minister conveyed to the Vice President that Indians when they come to the United States not only bring their talent and capacity to innovate, capacity to excel but also they are imbued in democratic values".

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