FOREIGN PRESS CENTER BRIEFING WITH A SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL
TOPIC: UPDATE ON THE U.S.-INDIA RELATIONSHIP
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 30, 2020, 2:00 P.M. EDT
MODERATOR: Thank you all for dialing in today to this Foreign Press Center briefing with a Senior State Department Official on the U.S.-India comprehensive global strategic relationship. As a reminder, this briefing is on background, attributable to a Senior State Department Official. Following remarks, we will have a question-and-answer session.
Sir, over to you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thank you, Katie, and thank you to all of the journalists who are joining us today. It’s a pleasure to be here to talk with you about the U.S.-India relationship, which is one of the most important partnerships in the world.
In fact, that’s the key message I want to deliver today. Both the United States and India are stronger, safer, and more prosperous when we work together. We share a common vision for the world and we’re bound by deep ties of friendship and democracy. Together, the United States and India are equipped to address a range of challenges for the benefit of our countries, the Indo-Pacific region, and the world.
Perhaps the clearest example of how the U.S.-India partnership has benefited the world is in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. India has been an important partner for the United States since the early days of the pandemic when countries were desperate for factual information about the virus and searching for personal protective equipment and other medical supplies. At that time, Deputy Secretary Biegun engaged with India to come up with solutions to these problems. Our collaborative approach on therapeutics is an excellent example of the positive global impact of the U.S.-India partnership.
American company Gilead has granted voluntary non-exclusive licensing agreements to Indian pharmaceutical companies to produce a generic form of remdesivir. As a result, this effective COVID-19 therapeutic will be made available at scale and at speed to 127 low and middle-income countries. The U.S. and India are also working together to develop and produce vaccines to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Looking forward to the next six months and beyond, we know that our continued close cooperation with India will be an important part of the global recovery from the pandemic.
While addressing the shared challenge of COVID-19 is a priority in the U.S.-India relationship, it’s not the only area in which we work together. Our relationship has seen tremendous growth since Prime Minister Vajpayee’s historic visit to Washington 20 years ago. In the relatively short time since President Trump made his own historic visit to India in February, we’ve deepened our cooperation across a range of sectors.
I’d like to provide an update on our recent collaboration on three of those areas: energy, defense, and the economy.
On energy, Secretary of Energy Brouillette and Minister of Energy Pradhan met on July 17th to advance the U.S.-India Strategic Energy Partnership. This high-level meeting produced agreements that covered power, hydrocarbons and green energy, and detailed our energy cooperation on issues ranging from efficient and environmentally friendly air conditioning initiatives to technical cooperation on strategic petroleum reserves that will reinforce our nation’s energy security and prosperity for decades to come.
On defense, at a time when India is facing substantial security challenges, the growth in our defense partnership is exceptionally important. This partnership includes defense sales, particularly our offers of advanced U.S. weapon systems, as a demonstration of our commitment to India’s security and sovereignty. But the U.S.-India defense relationship extends beyond arms transfers. Our partnership also includes our ongoing efforts on defense industrial cooperation. Through the U.S.-India Defense Technology and Trade Initiative, the United States and India work together on co-production and co-development of defense equipment, most recently through a U.S.-India senior defense official meeting on September 15th.
Interoperability between our military services has reached unprecedented levels, as demonstrated by the Tiger Triumph exercise last year and the Indian Navy’s recent passage exercise with the USS Nimitz Carrier Strike Group in the Indian Ocean.
And of course, we continue to see engagement at the highest levels between our governments, most recently when our senior officials met for the 2+2 intersessional. We look forward to the 2+2 ministerial a little later this year.
On the economy, private sector engagement is the engine of our economic relationship, and we’ve enjoyed a number of recent high-level economic and commercial events together. In July, the U.S.-India Business Council held its annual ideas summit which brought together leaders from all areas of private industry. Secretary of State Pompeo participated in delivering keynote remarks, which indicates how important the U.S.-India economic relationship is for our mutual long-term prosperity.
The United States is already India’s most important trading partner with bilateral trade in goods and services approaching $150 billion in 2019. We look forward to expanding this relationship by working together to reduce the impediments to trade and investment and support our economic recovery from the impact of COVID-19.
Those are just the highlights of our recent bilateral engagement. I’d like to turn now to our partnership with India and other like-minded countries on the multilateral front.
Last week marked the first-ever virtual meeting of the UN General Assembly, which was a sober reminder of how COVID-19 has changed the practice of multilateral diplomacy, which is why we’re particularly pleased to welcome India’s upcoming term on the UN Security Council. We look forward to working together in that forum to address global challenges.
The United States and India have also joined forces through the G20 to support the Debt Service Suspension Initiative. We’re working together through this initiative to offer debt relief to help the world’s poorest countries recover from the economic shock of the COVID-19 pandemic and to promote best practices in debt transparency and sustainability, in contrast to ongoing PRC efforts to hide its unsustainable debt diplomacy.
It’s not just COVID-19 that is a shared challenge for the world. The United States, India, and countries all over the world are becoming increasingly aware of the negative effects of disinformation and other destabilizing actions in the Indo-Pacific region and the world. In this context, India’s role on the world stage and India’s work with the United States and other partners has become even more important. India’s important to the effort to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific region because we view India as an emerging global power that shares our vision of an Indo-Pacific region that is peaceful, stable, and prosperous for all.
In pursuit of that goal, we look to cooperate on developing and promoting trusted digital networks, developing global debt solutions that are fair and sustainable, and by developing reliable and trusted supply chains to ensure that countries are not vulnerable to economic coercion.
One final highlight on the multilateral front is our increasingly strong Quad partnership with Australia, India, and Japan. Our Quad senior officials met just last week and exchanged views on a range of issues, including our shared vision for the Indo-Pacific region. We look forward to the upcoming meeting of Quad foreign ministers on October 6th and we welcome additional opportunities for engagement such as having Australia join the Malabar naval exercise.
In conclusion, before I turn it over for your questions, despite the daunting challenges facing the world today, the United States and India are finding ways to cooperate and collaborate to bring the enormous strengths of both of our nations to bear. The damage done by COVID-19, the People’s Republic of China’s actions throughout the Indo-Pacific region, and the global economic downturn have driven an acceleration in the breadth and depth of the U.S.-India relationship. Every time we look at these problems, we find another area or solution where working together makes us both stronger, and the United States and India both see the danger in missing the opportunity to link our great societies and economies more closely.
I’ll stop there, and I look forward to taking your questions.
MODERATOR: Thank you, sir. John, could you please remind everyone of how they can indicate they have a question?
OPERATOR: Certainly. Ladies and gentlemen, if you do want to ask a question on the call, please press 1-0.
MODERATOR: Okay. For our first question, we will go to Yashwant Raj from The Hindustan Times, please.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. Thank you so much for doing this. You spoke briefly about India’s upcoming term on the UNSC. As you know, Prime Minister Modi recently expressed considerable amount of frustration with the slow pace of progress on reforms. Do you expect any movement on this anytime soon? And when do you think it’s going to happen? I mean, how much more time will this take as you can gather from PM Modi’s remarks? He was quite frustrated (inaudible). Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes, thank you. I assume you’re – are you talking about reform in the UN Security Council particularly —
QUESTION: That’s correct.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: — or the UN General Assembly in this —
QUESTION: No, no, the UN Security Council expansion and reform in the UNSC – (inaudible) Security Council.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So I will say that the United States and India share a broad range of common goals and objectives globally as well as multilaterally. In terms of a specific question on UN Security Council expansion and reform, I’m going to take that question from you to make sure that we get you an answer that’s consistent with our position on UN issues.
MODERATOR: Okay. Our next question will come from Sriram Lakshman of The Hindu.
QUESTION: Thank you very much for doing this. I want to echo Yashwant’s question, and specifically what action, if any, is the U.S. considering to help India with getting a permanent seat on the UNSC? Because India and Japan and Brazil and Germany have said that they want text-based negotiations, and they want timebound outcomes. So what action will the U.S. take? And what actions can it take?
My second question is about the actions that the Indian Government’s taken against Amnesty International. As you know, they’ve had to shut shop in India because the government has frozen their accounts. Can we have a reaction to this please?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: On the UN Security Council reform question, I will say the same thing, which is that I’ll take that question. That’s a technical and very specific question that is followed in great detail by our international organizations colleagues, and I would be hesitant to give you an unsatisfying answer. So instead I will consult with my colleagues and ensure that we get you something on that.
On the issue of the Amnesty International – of the situation involving Amnesty International in India, yes, we’ve been focused – we’ve been very, very closely following this issue not just in the administration, but I know that our members of Congress have as well. It has received attention at the highest levels of our government.
The United States is committed to the health and vibrancy of civil society in all countries, but also especially India. We believe that the strength of civil society and the openness of society is a strength of India, and it’s something that is part of what powers our cooperation, our bilateral cooperation. And therefore, we’re concerned about obstacles to the work of civil society, whether in India or anywhere else in the world.
So we’re following it closely and we look forward to a response and a resolution to this situation that’s consistent with international principles and the rule of law. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Okay. Our next question will come from Seema Sirohi of The Economic Times.
QUESTION: Thank you. I wanted to ask you about the upcoming 2+2 dialogue. What is the agenda going to be? And the same question for the Quad meeting. Are you looking for some specific outcomes, and could you give us a sense about how close India is to accessing Australian participation in the Malabar exercises?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thank you for that question. Regarding the agendas for the 2+2 meeting, you’re talking about something that’s occupying our every day. We work on it constantly. We’re in constant communication with Delhi on this subject, as well as with our colleagues in the Pentagon. You can expect that the issues discussed between our Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense and India’s Minister for External Affairs and Minister of Defense will be comprehensive, wide-ranging, and strategic. That will include defense topics, of course, as – including a variety of very specific issues of U.S.-India bilateral defense cooperation, and also an extremely wide range of U.S.-India bilateral cooperation – diplomatic cooperation, multilateral cooperation, economic cooperation, technological space cooperation, people-to-people cooperation. There’s virtually no dimension of both countries’ national power that’s not going to be addressed in some way through the 2+2 dialogue that we have, or with the associated meetings.
The Quad ministerial as well, we are also looking at a comprehensive suite of issues. I believe the actual agenda for that is going to be kept close-hold among the countries to enable a more frank and open discussion of those issues. But the overall goals of the Quad partnership should be pretty indicative of what the agenda is going to be: defense, economic, COVID-19 in particular. I think I will leave it at that.
On the Malabar exercise, we already – that is going to go forward certainly with India, Japan, and the United States, and we are still discussing whether or not Australia will be able to participate. Thanks.
MODERATOR: Okay. Before we take our next question, I’d like to ask if anyone who has not yet asked a question would like to indicate that they would like to ask one.
All right. We will take another question then from Yashwant Raj from The Hindustan Times.
QUESTION: Thank you so much for giving me another shot. I want to follow up on the Quad question. Stephen Biegun has, as you – as all of us recall, spoke recently about formalizing the structure or having some kind of a NATO-like structure to back it or to kind of take it forward. Has there been any progress – has there been any progress on that, or – I mean, is that going to be coming out of the next meeting of the Quad ministerial?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, the first thing I would say is be – you need to read articles that came out of Secretary Biegun’s speech very carefully and separate what he actually said from what the analysts believe he was getting at, because those things have a tendency to blend together and to indicate that he may have said things that he did not actually say. So I would encourage you to go back to that and review it in depth.
The United States is building new and stronger bonds with the nations that share our values across the Indo-Pacific region. India, Australia, and Japan are the main three that we have – that we have got together with on the Quad. And these relationships flow from a spirit of respect, inclusivity, and partnership, not domination. We all have our own Indo-Pacific strategies and our approaches, and we share a complementary vision of a free and open region that’s committed to rules-based order, respect for international law, and the peaceful resolution of disputes.
Our quadrilateral consultations allow us to exchange perspectives on the Indo-Pacific region and discuss how to advance these goals. And we also share a goal of strengthening the existing regional architecture, rather than create new regional architecture. We want to grow our engagement with ASEAN and ASEAN-centered institutions to preserve that rules-based order.
The United States wants to work with any country committed to advancing a free and open Indo-Pacific region, and these quadrilateral meetings are one of many means for consultations with regional partners. I think I’ll leave it at that.
MODERATOR: Okay. John, would you mind reminding everyone how they can indicate they have a question?
OPERATOR: Certainly, yeah. If they do have a question, they press 1 then 0.
MODERATOR: Thank you. All right, we have another question from Seema Sirohi of the Economic Times.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you. I wanted to ask you, or press you further on the Malabar exercises. From what we know, India is the only country that’s hesitant about it. So I just wanted to get a sense if India is coming closer to the other three on this question.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think that’s probably a question for India.
MODERATOR: All right. Do we have any additional questions? Again, you can push – press 1-0 if you would like to… Okay, we have a question from Arul Louis from the Indo-Asian News Service.
QUESTION: You mentioned about the tensions that India is facing vis-a-vis China in passing. Do you have any specific plans on what the U.S. can do in this regard? And I think at one time, Secretary of State Pompeo said about getting some kind of a support among other countries in regard to what China’s been doing regionally. Would you have any comments on that? Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, the United States maintains a – has a vision and a commitment to a peaceful, open Indo-Pacific region and I’d say that stands in marked contrast to the activities of the People’s Republic of China. And you just have to open your internet browser to see all of the various areas where China has engaged in aggressive, hostile, or bullying behavior against its neighbors or against its own citizens. Unfortunately, India has also been one of the victims of that. So the United States exercise of freedom of navigation, of military and defense partnerships, and cooperation with other states in the region is designed to reinforce the basic norms of peaceful solution of problems, of resolution of disputes, and of preservation of rule of law, freedom of navigation, and peace in the region.
I think much of what we do in the region can be seen through that lens. We know what a peaceful, open, successful, and welcoming order looks like in the Indo-Pacific, and that’s something that we’re trying to advance in – and a scenario where the United States and India very much share a common objective. And the evolution of our defense partnership is supporting and consistent with that.
MODERATOR: Okay, we have another – we have a question from Niki Natarajan, also from the Indo-Asian News Service.
QUESTION: Hi. Thank you for doing this. 5G security is listed as one of your priority areas. Secretary Pompeo’s been talking about it a lot, especially Clean Path. It’s not limited to India but this is an India question. What about 2G and 3G legacy networks where it’s hard to really retrofit Clean Networks? What are the – what are your thoughts on that? How much does it risk security?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Wow. I think I would need to be an electronic engineer to answer that particular question. We’re mostly focused on the overall principle of establishing and protecting a strong digital economy worldwide and that – that can benefit from the promise of 5G, but I guess that the protection of 2G and 3G legacy systems would also be consistent with that.
I mean, countries need to be able to trust that their equipment and software is not going to threaten their national security, their economic security, their privacy, intellectual property, even their human rights. And when you look at companies like Huawei and ZTE, People’s Republic of China companies where PRC laws can force these companies to grant the Government of China the ability to disrupt critical infrastructure or to intercept secure transmissions or to acquire sensitive technology data, that’s a real national security vulnerability. It’s a vulnerability for populations, for economies, and for national security.
So we’ve been working with India, especially – and everybody but especially India – to adopt a risk-based security framework for – both for the construction of new 5G networks, and I guess to protect legacy systems as well, in order to keep those untrusted vendors out of their networks. I guess I’ll leave it at that. I can – we can look into some of the more specific technical aspects of your question and get back to you, though.
MODERATOR: Thank you. So we have time for one more question. I’ll give anyone a chance who hasn’t asked a question to raise their hand. All right, so we will go back to Seema Sirohi from The Economic Times. You’ll have the final question, thank you.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask you about the border situation. Is there any appetite in order to help India – since India, as you said, is a victim of Chinese behavior and currently we are in a very tense border standoff – is there any appetite, let’s say in the U.S. Government thinking, to take a stand or a position on the border itself and to provide support from India’s point of view as to where the border is?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I see. I see. I mean, we could say that we are – that we’re closely monitoring the situation. The discussion of where the actual border is of course is very – is a very sensitive one, so what we have done in the past is supported both sides’ efforts to achieve a diplomatic settlement that both sides can accept. We have – our position on some parts of the border for sure is explicitly clear. For nearly six decades the United States has recognized Arunachal Pradesh is Indian territory. And – I mean, I guess where I will leave it as saying that we strongly oppose any unilateral attempts to advance territorial claims by incursions, by military or civilian incursions across the border or across the established line of actual control. And the disputed boundaries, all we can say is that we encourage India and China to use their existing bilateral channels to discuss those and not resort to military force.
Thank you very much to everybody. We owe you answers on UNS – UN Security Council reform question, and I will follow that up with my colleagues in the International Organizations bureau, and we can get back to you.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much, sir, and thank you to everyone who joined today. This concludes our briefing and thank you.