US officials Pompeo, Esper to visit India for annual talks

NEW DELHI (AP) — India’s government said Thursday that talks next week with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper in New Delhi will cover “all bilateral, regional and global issues of mutual interest.”

The talks are also expected to focus on cooperation in building a free and open Indo-Pacific in view of China’s growing footprint in the region, though India’s External Affairs Ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava made no mention of China when discussing next week’s meeting at his weekly briefing.

However, Pompeo told reporters in Washington on Wednesday that “I’m sure that my meetings will also include discussions on how free nations can work together to thwart threats posed by the Chinese Communist Party.”

The meetings, which have been held the past two years, bring the foreign and defense ministers of the two countries together for talks. This year’s talks come amid heightened tensions between India and China following a clash on their disputed mountain border.

Last week, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun visited New Delhi and called China “an elephant in the room,” stressing that Washington is keen to advance India’s interests in the region.

Earlier this month, Pompeo met his counterparts from India, Japan and Australia in Tokyo. The four countries together make up the Indo-Pacific grouping known as the Quad.

The Quad is seen as a counterweight to China, who critics say is flexing its military muscle in the South China Sea, East China Sea, Taiwan Strait and along its northern border with India.

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