Oct 27, 2012

India - India gears up for trilateral with U.S., Japan

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The third India-U.S.-Japan trilateral discussions will be held here on Monday, just over a fortnight before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh leaves for Tokyo, followed by a visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia for the India-Asean summit.

The trilateral meet will see the U.S. explaining its Asia pivot, while maritime security will be a major topic of discussion. In addition, officials from the three countries will touch on Afghanistan and Central Asia, efforts to embed India in the regional diplomatic architecture of the East Asia Summit, Asean Regional Forum and APEC.

As the U.S. trilateral team chief Robert Blake’s boss William Burns put it on Friday in a different context, the engagements would help “keep a very careful eye on less promising trends across the region, and the revival of old animosities that can quickly undermine the promise of economic interdependence and easy assumptions about shared prosperity. Recent frictions in both the East China Sea and the South China Sea are a sobering reminder of how fast nationalism and maximalism can rear their heads.’’

The trilaterals are a tool deployed by the U.S. to obtain a consensus in small groups of friendly countries. The U.S.-Japan-Australia trilateral has been in existence for five years, while the ones on Afghanistan are beginning to proliferate as the 2014 deadline for the drawdown of western troops from the country draws closer. In fact, South Block is amenable to a U.S.-China-India dialogue in which trade and investment related issues could be primarily discussed.

India recently hosted the Mekong-Ganga ministerial meeting and held the 2+2 consultations with Japan, which involved its Foreign and Defence Secretaries. The Asean-India summit will come to New Delhi this winter.

In addition to acquainting the U.S about their 2 +2 meeting in Tokyo earlier this week, the two sides will also be discussing the maritime security initiatives they have firmed up and which could be announced during Dr. Singh’s visit.

The nuclear and disarmament issue will also come up for discussion against the backdrop of the U.S.’ suggestion to Australia, Japan and Canada to arrive at a civil nuclear agreement with India. While Australia has already agreed to open talks on a civil nuclear agreement, officials here admit India is “badly stuck on a couple of issues’’ in its discussions on a similar pact with Japan.

Interestingly, both Japanese and Indian officials feel the other government is too weak to carry through a satisfactory civil nuclear agreement.

The three countries began trilateral talks with a four-hour meeting in Washington in December 2011 and followed it up with another one earlier this year in Tokyo.

The Indian team will be led by Ministry of External Affairs Joint Secretary Gautam Bambawale, but will have Vikram Doraiswami as JS Americas instead of Jawed Ashraf, who has moved over to the Prime Minister’s Office. The third Indian diplomat will be D. Bala Venkatesh Verma, the head of the Disarmament Division.


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