Blinken talking to top Indian officials to strengthen ties

NEW DELHI (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was talking with top Indian officials Wednesday in meetings that are expected to deepen ties between the important allies that are both rivals to a rising China.

Blinken and Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar were likely to discuss strengthening Indo-Pacific engagement, seen as a counter to China, as well as New Delhi’s recent human rights record and issues related to the coronavirus pandemic and climate change. A possible summit of leaders of the Quad in the U.S. later this year is also expected to be on the agenda.

The U.S. and India are part of the Quad regional alliance that also includes Japan and Australia and helps deal with China’s growing economic and military strength. Washington has long viewed New Delhi as a key partner in efforts to blunt increasing Chinese assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region, and ties between them have been on the ascent over the last few years.

Blinken’s India visit comes just days after his No. 2 diplomat, Wendy Sherman, was in China. He will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi later Wednesday.

Before meeting with Jaishankar, Blinken held closed-door talks with India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, details of which were not released. He also spoke to civil society leaders and said the fundamental freedoms and rule of law were “tenets of democracies” like the U.S. and India.

“We believe that all people deserve to have a voice in their government, to be treated with respect, no matter who they are,” he said.

Ahead of Blinken’s visit, Washington had said the top U.S. diplomat will raise the issues of human rights and democracy in India.

Opponents of Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalist party have accused it of stifling dissent and introducing divisive policies seen by many as discriminatory toward Muslims and other minorities. Modi has also been accused of trying to silence voices critical of his administration’s handling of the pandemic.

India routinely denies criticism of its human rights record. It has also rejected criticism by foreign governments and rights groups that say civil liberties have shrunk in the country.

Blinken is also expected to seek India’s support in stabilizing Afghanistan after the U.S. military withdrawal is completed at the end of August.

After his India visit, Blinken is set to travel to Kuwait.

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