U.S. top official for the region Donald Lu arrived in New Delhi on Thursday for bilateral talks on business, energy and strategic ties as well as on human rights and religious freedom. He will also speak on South Asian issues at the “Indo-U.S. Forum” conference in the capital, which will be addressed by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday.
Mr. Lu, who is the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, will hold talks in the Ministry of External Affairs and prepare for a visit by Mr. Blinken in March this year for the G-20 Foreign Ministers meeting, and discuss preparations for the Quad summit due to be held in mid-2023 in Sydney, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi will meet U.S. President Joseph Biden.
Mr. Lu will also travel to Bangladesh during this visit, the U.S. State department had said in a release earlier this week. He will hold meetings in both Delhi and Dhaka on a “range of priorities including energy, trade, security cooperation, religious freedom, [labour], and human rights.”
The MEA did not issue any advisory on the upcoming meetings, and officials did not respond to a specific question on what talks in Delhi on “religious freedom” and “human rights” would entail. In the past, New Delhi has reacted sharply to U.S. criticism and legislative reports on religious intolerance, media freedom and human rights issues, terming them “biased and prejudiced” and “vote bank politics” by the U.S. administration.
The two-day India-U.S. Forum organised by the MEA and the Ananta Centre, whose deliberations would be held behind closed doors, will also be addressed by Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra, Minister of Energy and Housing Hardeep Puri, Minister for Railways, Communication and IT Ashwini Vaishnaw, and Minister for Skill Development Rajeev Chandrasekhar.
U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, who met Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal this week in the U.S. for a Trade Policy Forum (TPF) meeting, will also participate in the forum. Developments in Afghanistan are likely to be discussed as Mr. Lu will participate in a conversation about South Asia, along with MEA Joint Secretary for Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iran J.P. Singh, who has lead talks with Taliban leaders over the past year.
Mr. Lu’s meetings in Dhaka will be of some interest, as they follow tensions in Bangladesh-U.S. ties over the next Bangladesh general election due in the first week of January 2024. Last month, Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen had admonished the U.S. government for statements expressing “concern” over government crackdowns on media, protests and political rallies, saying the U.S. should not “advise others” on democracy.
The U.S. State Department statement said that “while in Bangladesh, Assistant Secretary Lu will meet with senior Bangladeshi officials and civil society leaders to discuss strengthening our bilateral relationship, expanding economic engagement and hear their perspectives on [labour] and human rights.”