Blinken begins visit to India with speech to civil society leaders | Civil rights news

The US Secretary of State will meet with his Indian counterpart and other officials before meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet with his Indian counterpart and other officials on Wednesday before meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as Chinese rivals try to deepen their cooperation and resolve differences.

Blinken, on his first visit to the country since joining the administration of US President Joe Biden, is expected to discuss the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines, the security situation in Afghanistan and the human rights situation in India on Wednesday.

Speaking to a group of civil society leaders at a hotel in New Delhi, Blinken said the relationship between the United States and India is “one of the most important in the world”.

Blinken and US Ambassador to India Atul Keshap during a meeting with civil society leaders at the Leela Palace Hotel in New Delhi [Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]

“The Indian people and the American people believe in human dignity and equal opportunity, the rule of law, fundamental freedoms, including freedom of religion and belief… these are the fundamental principles of democracies like ours,” he said.

“And of course both of our democracies are works in progress. We talk about that as friends.”

Among those in attendance were religious leaders such as Geshe Dorji Damdul of the Tibet House in New Delhi, a cultural center of the Dalai Lama.

At his New Delhi meetings, Blinken is expected to address India’s human rights record, as well as a recent religion-based citizenship law widely seen as discriminatory against Muslims.

Prior to Blinken, India’s’ visit Ministry of Foreign Affairs said: the country was proud of its pluralistic traditions and was happy to discuss the matter with the highest-ranking US diplomat.

Modi’s government has faced allegations that it has suppressed dissent, implemented divisive policies to appeal to its Hindu nationalist base and alienated Muslims, the country’s largest minority.

Blinken arrives at the Delhi Palam Airport ahead of meetings with diplomatic counterparts [Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]

Blinken will hold talks with Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar later on Wednesday.

“Discussions will focus on regional and global issues of mutual interest – including recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Indo-Pacific region, Afghanistan and cooperation at the UN,” the State Department said.

Both sides will discuss the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, where the Taliban is rapidly expanding the territory they control in the wake of the withdrawal of US troops.

Despite the Taliban’s stated goal of overthrowing the Afghan government, US President Joe Biden has announced that his administration will end its mission in Afghanistan on August 31 after nearly 20 years.

The changing situation in the Indo-Pacific region against the background of China’s military stance is also high on the agenda, Indian analysts said.

The New Delhi talks are expected to lay the groundwork for a summit of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue — comprising Australia, India, Japan and the US — later this year, Indian media reported.

The group is seen as a regional bulwark against Beijing’s growing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region.

After finishing his meetings in New Delhi, Blinken will travel to Kuwait late on Wednesday.

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