Face-to-face meetings strengthen Indo-Pacific partnerships
The top diplomatic and defense officials from the United States selected the Indo-Pacific region for their international debut in a bid to bolster key partnerships and secure cooperation in areas ranging from artificial intelligence (AI) to pandemic containment.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin repeatedly emphasized in their travels that a Free and Open Indo-Pacific is only possible through strong partnerships among countries with democratic principles. They met in person for “two-plus-two” meetings with their counterparts from India, Japan and South Korea in mid-March 2021.
Austin emerged from a meeting with Indian leaders saying he was encouraged by the response from “an increasingly important partner amid today’s rapidly shifting international dynamics,” a March 20 news release from the U.S. Department of Defense stated.
In his meeting with Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, the leaders discussed elevating the U.S.-India Major Defense Partnership through regional security cooperation, military-to-military interactions and defense trade. They also agreed to cooperate in information sharing, logistics, artificial intelligence, and in the emerging domains of space and cyber.
Singh in a statement characterized the talks as a review of the “wide gamut of bilateral and multilateral exercises” involving the partners, adding that India “agreed to pursue enhanced cooperation with the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, [U.S.] Central Command and [U.S.] Africa Command.” (Pictured: U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin inspects an honor guard on his visit to New Delhi on March 20, 2021.)
As they met with defense and diplomatic officials throughout the region, Blinken and Austin stressed that it would take more than partnerships with the U.S. to ensure peace in the face of coercive behavior by the People’s Republic of China and the nuclear threat from North Korea. Indo-Pacific leaders who value democracy and human rights must work with each other, too, they said.
Blinken, for example, asked South Korean officials to effectively engage with Japan. A U.S. Department of State fact sheet released after his meeting in Seoul stressed that “a robust and effective trilateral relationship” involving Japan, South Korea and the U.S. “is critical for our joint security and interests in defending freedom and democracy, upholding human rights, championing women’s empowerment, combating climate change, promoting regional and global peace, security, and the rule of law in the Indo-Pacific and across the globe.”
South Korean leaders embraced the U.S. delegation, noting that the two-plus-two meetings between the countries were the first since 2016. A visit to Seoul so early in the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden “clearly shows the new U.S. administration’s emphasis on its allies,” South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong said, according to a Nikkei Asia report.
The in-person meetings in India, Japan and South Korea followed a virtual gathering of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, where the leaders of Australia, India, Japan and the U.S. committed to work together on issues ranging from the denuclearization of North Korea to providing 1 billion COVID-19 vaccines to Indo-Pacific countries by the end of 2022.