Amid China-US tension: Jaishankar meets Blinken, discusses Lanka, ASEAN

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar met US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh on Thursday. The meeting is taking place at a time when US-China tensions have increased over US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.

In his opening remarks at the meeting, which took place during the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ meeting, Blinken mentioned “challenges” in Sri Lanka and Myanmar and concerns over the situation in the Indo-Pacific.

Warm talks to start meetings on the sidelines of the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Phnom Penh. Jaishankar tweeted and discussed with the US Secretary of State @SecBlinken the continuing strengthening of India-US relations and the global situation.

Blinken said the US and India are strong proponents of the ASEAN centrality in the Indo-Pacific, according to the US State Department. “We are both strong proponents of ASEAN centrality. We have a shared vision together for a free and open Indo-Pacific that we work on in so many different ways every single day,” Blinken said.

“And of course, we have some immediate challenges that we’re both concerned with, including the situation in Sri Lanka, Burma, and several other hot spots,” he said. “So I very much look forward to once again being able to go through a number of these issues with my friend, and then we’ll both head over to our meetings.”

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Jaishankar and Blinken “exchanged views on global and regional issues, including Russia’s brutal aggression against Ukraine and its impact on food insecurity around the world”.

India has so far sought to maintain a diplomatic balance between Russia and the US-led West over the Russian invasion of Ukraine. While it has expressed concern over the killings in Buka, it has stopped condemning Moscow’s actions.

Price said, “They discussed Sri Lanka’s economic crisis and emphasized that both countries stand with the people of Sri Lanka and support their aspirations for a return to economic and political stability through democratic and constitutional processes.”

Jaishankar also met Lankan Foreign Minister Ali Sabry.

“A warm first meeting with FM Ali Sabry of Sri Lanka congratulated him on his new responsibility. Reaffirmed India’s commitment, as a dependable friend and reliable partner, to the economic recovery and well-being of Sri Lanka. Neighbourhood First,” he tweeted later.

India has so far extended almost $4 billion worth of economic and humanitarian assistance to Sri Lanka, as it battles its worst economic crisis since 1948.

At the Jaishankar-Blinken meeting, the US spokesperson also said, “Secretary Blinken condemned the Burmese military regime’s execution of democracy activists, and they discussed promoting accountability for the regime’s atrocities as well as our collective efforts to put Burma back on the path to democracy. They also noted our shared efforts to promote a free, open, secure, and prosperous Indo-Pacific.”

India has expressed “deep concern” at the recent executions but has not yet condemned Myanmar’s junta strongly for these latest actions.

Jaishankar, who attended the India-ASEAN ministerial meeting, said India and the 10-nation grouping have “strong convergence” in the Indo-Pacific, combating the threat of terrorism, and the developments in Ukraine and Myanmar.

He said India and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) also have similar views on connectivity projects, dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic and issues relating to cybersecurity.

The minister identified the digital domain, health, agriculture, education and green growth as areas that drive the partnership between the two sides. “Digital, health, agriculture education and green growth will drive our partnership. Act East unfolds steadily,” he tweeted.

The India-ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ interaction focused on holistic development in the Indo-Pacific region and ways to further expand ties against the backdrop of geopolitical developments, including the crisis in Ukraine. The foreign ministers also discussed the situation in the South China Sea, which is witnessing aggressive behaviour by China.

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