New Delhi, October 21

India will host the third India-US 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue on October 27 in New Delhi, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) announced on Wednesday.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper will visit India on October 26 and 27 to participate in the dialogue. From the Indian side, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar will lead the delegations from the Ministries of Defence and External Affairs, respectively.

The first two 2+2 Ministerial dialogues were held in New Delhi in September 2018 and in Washington DC in 2019. The agenda for the third dialogue will cover all bilateral, regional and global issues of mutual interest, said the MEA.

However, the MEA’s announcement was preceded by Esper making the same observation while speaking at a US think-tank event on Tuesday.

“India will well be the most consequential partner for us, in the Indo-Pacific for us for sure. It’s the world’s largest democracy, a very capable country with very talented people, and they face off, every day, Chinese aggression in the Himalayas,” Esper said about the purpose of his visit.

With India’s acquiescence after its standoff on the line of actual control (LAC) with China remains unrelenting, the US has put its South Asia strategy in high gear.

It began with the US signing a defence framework with the Maldives followed by a top US diplomat visiting India and Bangladesh. Following the two plus two in New Delhi, Pompeo will travel to Sri Lanka to mend fences, followed by a stopover in Maldives which has come in for increasing Indian attention.

Esper said his visit is part of a broader US initiative to strengthen older alliances and develop new ones against Russian and Chinese efforts to build their own global power networks.

While India and the US step up their engagements in the neighbourhood, both countries are also attempting to regularise the Quad grouping of India, US, Australia and Japan in an eventual move towards its formalisation and expansion. The second Quad Foreign Ministers’ meeting was held earlier this month in Tokyo where Pompeo in his opening address termed China as “the elephant in the room”.

Recently, Australia said it will take part in a large-scale naval drill next month with India, the US and Japan under the Malabar series. Last November the US held its first-ever tri-services exercises with India. A bipartisan group of US Senators has also voiced its approval.

The two plus two meeting, Esper said will reflect the need for a lot more close collaboration on challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, where China is building its presence. “Together these efforts will strengthen what may become one of the most consequential partnerships of the 21st century,” he said.

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