WASHINGTON – US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit India next week, the US State Department said on Friday, during the first visit of America’s top diplomat to the world’s largest democracy and an important ally of the United States in Asia.
Blinken will also visit Kuwait and meet with senior officials there at the end of the trip from July 26-29.
The United States views India as an important partner in efforts to resist China’s increasingly assertive behavior. Blinken’s trip will follow a visit by Assistant Secretary of State Wendy Sherman to China and coincide with a visit to Southeast Asia by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.
On Wednesday in New Delhi, Blinken will meet Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.
Topics on the agenda will include “Indo-Pacific engagement, shared regional security interests, shared democratic values and the fight against the climate crisis” as well as the response to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a statement .
Blinken is likely to discuss plans for an in-person summit of the Quad group of countries – India, Japan, Australia and the United States – which is seen as a counterweight to China’s growing influence. The meeting to be held later this year is expected to focus on how to develop regional infrastructure in the face of China’s huge Belt and Road initiative.
The United States hosted a virtual Quad Country Summit in March where it agreed Indian drugmaker Biological E Ltd would produce at least one billion doses of coronavirus vaccine by the end of 2022, mostly for countries in Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
However, India, the world’s largest vaccine producer, was subsequently hit by a catastrophic wave of COVID-19 infections and halted vaccine exports amid strong criticism of Modi’s national vaccination efforts.
Washington sent raw materials for vaccines, medical supplies and protective gear to India after the peak.
India expects to receive 3-4 million doses of US-made vaccines by August.
“(India) is such a critical country in the fight against COVID-19,” Blinken told MSNBC on Friday, explaining that India would eventually become a vital source of vaccines for the world.
“Of course, they are now focusing on their own internal challenges, but when this production engine is fully operational and can again be distributed to the rest of the world, it will make a big difference. “
Last November, India, the United States, Japan and Australia conducted their largest joint naval exercises in more than a decade as part of efforts to balance China’s growing military and economic might. In the region.