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In this file photo taken February 4, 2021 US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to staff at the US State Department during the first visit of US President Joe Biden in Washington, DC. — AFP pic
In this file photo taken February 4, 2021 US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to staff at the US State Department during the first visit of US President Joe Biden in Washington, DC. — AFP pic

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WASHINGTON, July 23 — US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to India next week, the State Department said today, in the top US diplomat’s first visit to the world’s largest democracy and an important US ally in Asia.

Blinken will also visit Kuwait and meet senior officials there at the end of the July 26-29 trip.

The United States sees India as an important partner in efforts to stand up to China’s increasingly assertive behaviour. Blinken’s trip will follow a visit by Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman to China and coincide with one to Southeast Asia by Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin.

In New Delhi on Wednesday, Blinken will meet with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.

Among the subjects on the agenda will be “Indo-Pacific engagement, shared regional security interests, shared democratic values, and addressing the climate crisis” as well as the response to the coronavirus pandemic, a statement said.

Blinken is likely to discuss plans for an in-person summit of the Quad group of countries — Indian, Japan, Australia and the United States — that is seen as a counter to China’s rising influence. The meeting later this year is expected to focus on ways to develop regional infrastructure in the face of China’s massive Belt and Road Initiative.

The United States hosted a virtual summit of the Quad countries in March at which they agreed that Indian drugmaker Biological E Ltd would produce at least a billion coronavirus vaccine doses by the end of 2022, mainly for Southeast Asian and Pacific countries.

However, India, the world’s largest vaccine producer, was subsequently hit by a catastrophic wave of Covid-19 infections and halted vaccine exports amid intense criticism of Prime Minister Modi’s domestic vaccination efforts.

Washington sent raw materials for vaccines, medical equipment and protective gear to India after the spike.

Sources told Reuters this month that India expected to receive foreign-made Covid-19 vaccine doses through the COVAX global vaccine-sharing programme for the first time, with 3-4 million doses from US firms Pfizer and Moderna shots potentially arriving by August.

Last November, India, the United States, Japan and Australia conducted their largest joint naval exercises in over a decade as part of efforts to balance China’s growing military and economic power in the region. — Reuters

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