At the beginning of the Japan-US-India trilateral meeting on Friday, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi, US President Donald Trump and Japanese PM Shinzo Abe were prompted to shake hands for the cameras, Trump initiated a three-way fist bump.
Soon after, the three leaders — in their second trilateral meeting in seven months — made common cause as they took on China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and pushed for “connectivity” and “quality infrastructure”.
Japan has put “quality infrastructure” on the G-20 agenda, which India is backing. India has opposed the BRI since May 2017, although the criticism has been quite muted in the last one year since the Wuhan summit in April last year. But, the Osaka declaration is likely to have a strong mention of quality infrastructure.
After the trilateral meeting, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale called it a “very good” and “very productive” meeting, and said the main topic of the discussion was the “Indo-Pacific” about how the three countries can work together in terms of “connectivity, in terms of infrastructure, in terms of ensuring that peace and security is maintained and in terms of working together to build upon this new concept so that it benefits the region as a whole and for the three countries”.
A senior US official said planned discussion topics included “strong naval cooperation,” following up on a recent joint exercise in the South China sea. The official said the meeting was also “an opportunity to promote a resilient quality secure infrastructure”.
Quality infrastructure is a euphemism for better alternatives to BRI, which has been accused of debt-trap diplomacy.
According to the White House, the three leaders reaffirmed the critical importance of strengthening US-India-Japan cooperation to reinforce shared core democratic values, which promote global security and prosperity. The leaders agreed to meet annually and to ensure successful cooperation in multiple areas, including maritime security, “quality infrastructure”, and advancing peace and prosperity in the Indian Ocean and Pacific region and beyond, the statement said. “All three countries promote a free and open Indo-Pacific region,” a US official said.
While the Trump administration has sought to promote that concept, in part as a means of countering China, India has taken a slightly nuanced view which was articulated by External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar earlier this week after meeting US Secretary of State Michael R Pompeo in Delhi. He had said the Indo-Pacific is for something, not against somebody, and that something is “peace, security, stability, prosperity, and rules”. “So we’re really looking at a landscape where a number of independent players today work together for what they believe to be global good,” the External Affairs Minister had said.
On Friday, Abe called the three countries the “foundation of peace and prosperity in the region”. “Free and open Indo-Pacific is something that we would like to strive toward, and I’d like to have closer coordination among three countries going forward,” he told Modi and Trump.
Modi said that JAI — Japan, America and India — in Hindi means “victory.” “…This forum of ours has received a new impetus, and there is a new faith and confidence in our relations. We have common interests in the area of Indo-Pacific… We are committed to democracy, and therefore we would like a peaceful development and security in this region.”