New Delhi/Singapore: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US Vice President Mike Pence held talks on Wednesday on a wide range of bilateral and global issues of mutual interests including defence and trade cooperation, ways to counter terrorism and the need for maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific.
The two leaders had "productive discussion on all aspects of global strategic partnership based on growing convergence of interests on regional and global issues" on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit here, Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Raveesh Kumar said.
"Spoke about our shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific & reaffirmed our commitment to strengthen security and counterterrorism cooperation and coordination," Pence tweeted after his meeting with Modi.
In readout, Pence's office said he encouraged "free, fair, and reciprocal trade with India." Briefing the reporters, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale later said it was a "very good" meeting. "There was a sense of convergence both on bilateral issues and on global issues and we look forward to taking the relationship now in the coming months and in 2019," he said.
There was some discussion on the issue of terrorism. Pence referred to the upcoming 10th anniversary of the deadly Mumbai terror attack on November 26 and hailed cooperation between the two sides on counter terrorism, Gokhale said.
Modi thanked Pence and reminded him that in one way or another all the traces and all the leads in the global terror attacks ultimately leads to a "single source and single place of origin", without naming any country or organisation.
"He (Modi) did point out that the mainstreaming of people involved in the Mumbai attacks in a political process which has taken place in the recent elections in Pakistan should be a matter of serious concern not just to the two countries - India and US - but to international community," Gokhale said, referring to the Mumbai terror attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed's party contesting the July 25 elections in Pakistan.
"There was some good understanding of the areas of how we move forward in building cooperation on counter terrorism and both countries recognised that this is a challenge which we have to fight together and to fight along with the rest of the international community," Gokhale said. On bilateral issues, the two sides had brief discussions on trade related matters.
"We agreed that in a new relationship we are building with the US where trade is expanding we need to find ways in which we can help that process to take place," he said. Prime Minister Modi said that in the last two years - since President Donald Trump has assumed office - American exports to India have grown by 50 per cent and it is perhaps one of the countries, perhaps the only one, of the top 10 countries with which the US has a trade deficit where the deficit has actually reduced last year and is on course to further reduce this year, Gokhale said.
"There was a lot of discussions on energy. This is a new sector in Indo-US relations. We have begun importing oil and gas from US worth about USD 4 billion this year. We expressed our readiness to import more oil and gas from US as a way of expanding our trade," he said. The defence sector was another area of cooperation between the two sides. "Both sides agreed that there had been a substantial enhancement in our defence relationship, in our imports of equipment from the US but Prime Minister in particular stressed that there was a great opportunity for US in India in making defence equipment and setting up defence industry in India. Not only that India is a substantial market but because the way we are placed regionally we can become a hub for exports to the rest of the region," Gokhale said.
Prime Minister Modi said Indians when they come to the US not only bring their talent and capacity to innovate, capacity to excel but also they are imbued in democratic values. "And in that context the Prime Minister therefore expressed the hope that this would be the approach that US might take when it looks at the whole issue of the H-1B visa," Gokhale said. Pence acknowledged that India had made substantial progress economically as well as diplomatically in regional and international affairs, Gokhale said.
Pence felt that India is a positive factor in regional and international relations and said US looks forward to working with India on various issues – both on political and economic sides to ensure that "we have a fair rules-based international order", he said.
The two sides "agreed that on the international forums, we should on the basis of the shared values build up a possible cooperation in a number of areas". The Indo-Pacific region also comes up for discussion and Modi referred to his June speech in Singapore at IISS Shangrila Dialogue in which he had outlined India's vision on Indo-Pacific.
He conveyed to Pence that his vision of Indo-Pacific was gaining acceptability and that "we should utilise the forthcoming East Asia summit to further build on that," Gokhale said, amid China flexing its muscles in the East and South China Seas.
Pence spoke of a free and open Indo-Pacific. He felt that India's contribution in ensuring this would be important and "we then discussed how both sides can strengthen cooperation in this area to ensure that this is an area of growth, of prosperity, of development and of benefit for the countries of the region in the future," Gokhale said.
Pence thanked India in supporting the US on its North Korean pressure campaign.