The growing salience of the Indo-Pacific construct and the threats posed to the region’s peace and security by China came to the fore at the trilateral summit of JAI (Japan-America-India) leaders on the margins of the G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan on Friday.
At the end of the meeting, Prime Minister Narendra Modi conveyed his satisfaction with the discussions tweeting: “Today’s meeting of the JAI Trilateral was a productive one. We had extensive discussions on the Indo-Pacific region, improving connectivity and infrastructure development.”
In what is seen as a fine balancing act by New Delhi, PM Modi also participated in another trilateral, that of the RIC (Russia-India-China) with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and China’s President Xi Jinping.
Expectedly, amidst the U.S.-China trade wars and with India too having its share of troubles with the Trump administration on the trade front, the informal grouping discussed the global trading regime, protectionist tendencies and the challenges the WTO is facing as an institution.
At the JAI meet, China was clearly the elephant in the room with the three leaders discussing how their countries can work together to ensure peace and security in the Indo-Pacific. While countries that are part of the Indo-Pacific construct have often denied any military aspect to it, it is seen as a counter to China’s growing might and assertiveness in the region.
In remarks shortly before the trilateral meeting commenced, PM Modi emphasised the need for “peace and stability in this (Indo-Pacific) region”. He further said: “We are committed to democracy, and therefore we would like peaceful development and security in this region”.
PM Abe too said: “Free and open Indo-Pacific is something that we would like to strive toward, and I’d like to have closer coordination among three countries going forward”.
Days earlier the ASEAN member states unveiled their own outlook on the Indo-Pacific, and on May 31, the Quad meeting covered similar ground. All three JAI member states are also members of the Quad, the fourth being Australia. India’s statement upon the Quad meet’s conclusion had said member states “reaffirmed their commitment towards a free, open, prosperous and inclusive Indo-Pacific region based on shared values and principles.”
Japanese PM Shinzo Abe with whom PM Modi shares a close rapport, retweeted the latter’s tweet. U.S. President Donald Trump, an avid tweeter, had not said anything about his talks at the trilateral at the time of writing this article. He chose instead to focus on the domestic politics of his country by taking a swipe at two potential Democratic presidential candidates “Sleepy Joe”(Joe Biden) and “Crazy Bernie” (Bernie Sanders)
“I am in Japan at the G-20, representing our Country well, but I heard it was not a good day for Sleepy Joe or Crazy Bernie. One is exhausted, the other is nuts – so what’s the big deal?” tweeted the American President.
The trilateral meet, only the second one since it began last year on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, was described as a “very good meeting” by India’s foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale.
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