In her first meeting with PM Modi, US VP Harris talks about defending democracies

Washington, Sep 24 (PTI): Voicing concern over the threat to democracies around the world, Vice President Kamala Harris has underscored the need to defend democratic principles and institutions in both India and the US.
Harris made the remarks on Thursday in a joint media appearance with Prime Minister Narendra Modi before their first in-person meeting at the White House during which they decided to further cement the Indo-US strategic partnership and discussed global issues of common interest, including Afghanistan and the Indo-Pacific.
“As democracies around the world are under threat, it is imperative that we defend democratic principles and institutions within our respective countries and around the world, Harris told Prime Minister Modi.
“And that we maintain what we must do to strengthen democracies at home and it is incumbent on our nations to of course protect democracies in the best interests of people of our countries, she said in her remarks as she welcomed Modi to her ceremonial office.
“I know from personal experience and from my family of the commitment of the Indian people to democracy, and the work that needs to be done (so that) we can begin to imagine, and then actually achieve our vision for democratic principles and institutions, said 56-year-old Harris, whose mother – Shyamala Gopalan – was a cancer researcher and civil rights activist from Chennai.
According to The Economist Intelligence Unit in February, India slipped two places to 53rd position in the 2020 Democracy Index’s global ranking. However, India is ranked higher than most of its neighbouring countries.
Harris’ remarks came months after a raucous group of demonstrators waving Trump 2020′ flags and wearing T-shirts and hats with the then president’s signature Keep America Great’ tagline stormed Capitol Hill on January 6 and clashed with police just as Congress convened to validate Joe Biden’s presidential win.
Commenting on the attack, Biden had said, This was not dissent. It was a disorder. It posed an existential crisis and a test of whether our democracy could survive – a sad reminder that there is nothing guaranteed about our democracy.”
When asked about Harris’ comments on democracy, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla told the media that the Vice President appreciated the fact that both the countries represented large and successful democracies and that “we needed to continue to work not only within our own countries, but with other countries, to promote the brand of democracy.”
“In the discussions, I think she did mention that the US Congress was highly appreciative and kept noting the fact that India and the US represented the two largest democracies. There was a great deal of appreciation of how both our democracies function. And that was I would say discussion that took place in the actual meeting, which, in which the media were not present,” Shringla told the media in response to a question.
Harris said the world is more interconnected and more interdependent than ever before. “And the challenges that we face today have highlighted that fact. COVID-19, climate crisis and the importance of our shared belief in the Indo-Pacific region,” she said.
The two leaders were wearing masks as they both spoke in front of a battery of pool reporters from both India and the US.
Describing India as a “very important partner” to the US, Harris said that she looks forward to discussing how the two countries can continue to best work together to strengthen their relationship around their mutual concerns and the challenges they face, but also the opportunities that those challenges present.
She had earlier spoken with Modi over phone on June 3.
“Throughout our history, our nations have worked together and stood together, to make our world a safer and stronger world.
Mr Prime Minister, when you and I last spoke, we talked about how our world is interconnected and the challenges that we face today highlighted that fact with COVID-19, the climate crisis and the importance of our shared belief in a free and open Indo-Pacific region, Harris said.
She said that early in the COVID-19 pandemic, India was a vital source of vaccines for other countries.
“When India experienced a surge of COVID the United States was very proud to support India and needed its and responsibility to vaccinate its people, she said.

Modi, Suga for free, open Indo-Pacific

Washington: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Yoshihide Suga have reaffirmed the importance of maritime security towards the realisation of a “free and open” Indo-Pacific as they shared strong opposition to the economic coercion and unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force in the East and South China Seas, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said. During their meeting here on Thursday, the two Prime Ministers reviewed the multi-faceted bilateral relationship and exchanged views on recent global developments, including in Afghanistan.
They agreed to enhance bilateral security and defence cooperation, including in the area of defence equipment and technologies, according to a statement issued by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).
According to a statement issued by Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), the two leaders shared the view on the importance of maritime security towards the realisation of a “free and open Indo-Pacific” and reaffirmed to work closely with each other and also with the US and Australia in order to strengthen the connectivity in the region as well as to form an international order based on the rule of law.
The two leaders shared strong opposition to the economic coercion and unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force in the East and South China Seas, the MOFA said.
Suga reiterated the importance of the partnership with India, which shares the basic values with Japan, and especially the role of Modi, who has long advocated the importance of rule-based order and the rule of law to realise a “free and open Indo-Pacific”, it said.
India, the US and several other world powers have been talking about the need to ensure a free, open and thriving Indo-Pacific in the backdrop of China’s rising military manoeuvring in the region.
China claims nearly all of the disputed South China Sea, though Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam all claim parts of it. Beijing has built artificial islands and military installations in the South China Sea. China also has a territorial dispute with Japan in the East China Sea.
Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla, briefing the media on the meeting between Prime Minister Modi and his Japanese counterpart Suga, said that it was their first in-person meeting.
The issue of China as a very major global player did come up and this is one of the many issues that were discussed, he said when asked whether reference to China’s conduct over the last couple of years came in during the meeting.
According to the MOFA statement, Suga expressed hope that the Varanasi International Cooperation and Convention Centre, which was built with Japan’s grant aid which both the Prime Ministers celebrated together in July upon the completion, would be utilised as a “proof of friendship between Japan and India”, the MOFA statement said.
Modi expressed his gratitude for Suga’s significant contribution to the Japan-India relations and stated that India’s relations with Japan are very important not only for both countries but also for the stability and prosperity of the region and the world, it said, adding that he also congratulated the success of Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
The two leaders concurred that they would continue to cooperate in tackling COVID-19, as well as in the security field including holding the next round of Japan-India Foreign and Defence Ministerial Meeting ( 2 + 2 ) at an early date, the MOFA statement said.
They also concurred on continuing cooperation in the field of economy and economic cooperation including in digital, green technology, healthcare, and enhancing connectivity.
Suga mentioned potential areas of cooperation such as establishing safe and reliable 5G network and submarine cables, strengthening industrial competitiveness and supply chain, realising realistic energy transitions, accepting workers from India under the system of Specified Skilled Worker (SSW), enhancing the exchanges of IT professionals, and promoting development of India’s North Eastern Region.
They also reaffirmed that they would continue to cooperate towards the steady progress of the high-speed rail project, which is the symbol of the Japan-India cooperation.

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