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G-20 summit Osaka

India treads a fine line with US-Japan and China-Russia at G-20

Modi discusses Indo-Pacific with Trump and Abe, trade issues with Xi and Putin

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, center, also discussed Iran situations and counter-terrorism measures with other leaders. 

OSAKA -- Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday held trilateral meetings with the leaders of Japan and the U.S., and then later with those of China and Russia on the sidelines of the Group of 20 Summit of the world's wealthy and developing nations in Osaka, striking a delicate balance in India's ties with key global economies.

"The main topic of discussion was the Indo-Pacific," India's foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale said at a media briefing after Modi's meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

They talked about how the three countries can work together on improving connectivity and infrastructure, ensuring peace and security and building upon "this new concept," said Gokhale, referring to trilateral relations, for the benefit of the region as a whole and their countries.

This is the three leaders' second meeting since their discussions on the margins of the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires in Argentina in November and reflects the importance they place on efforts to offset China's expanding influence in the region.

Soon after this trilateral gathering, Modi held a bilateral meeting with Trump, which came against the backdrop of rows between India and the U.S. over tariffs and geopolitics, with Washington ending preferential duty-free entry of Indian exports this month and New Delhi slapping retaliatory levies days later. The U.S. has also refused to extend a waiver to New Delhi for purchasing oil from Iran and pressed it not to buy S-400 missile air defense systems from Russia.

Ahead of their meeting, Trump tweeted that he was going to take up with Modi the recent increase of tariffs on U.S. goods. "This is unacceptable and the Tariffs must be withdrawn!"

At the Modi-Trump meeting, the Indian foreign secretary said there was a discussion on trade.

"It was agreed that trade ministers of both countries would meet at an early date and would try [to] sort out these issues," he said. "The idea was to clear the air and then to set the agenda for discussion in resolving trade matters."

Other issues that came up for discussion included Iran and defense relations.

On Iran, which accounts for 11% of India's crude oil requirements, Modi outlined his country's concerns regarding energy, as well as peace and stability in the region, while Trump expressed hope that oil prices would remain stable, with both agreeing to keep in touch on the issue.

A few hours later, Modi met Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian leader Vladimir Putin in another crucial trilateral gathering. The three leaders pledged to uphold multilateralism and denounce protectionism, taking aim at Trump's key 'America First' trade policy.

They went on to discuss the need for reform of the World Trade Organization. "All three leaders have agreed that in an era of economic change, global change, it is important to maintain the trend of globalization [and] liberalization of trade," Gokhale said.

India's stance shows the nation has agreements and disagreements with all parties with whom it engages. Due to its status as a regional power in South Asia, other nations will always be eager for India to be in their corner.

Analysts say the country is on the same page as China and Russia regarding support for multilateralism and raising concerns over the Iran situation.

At the same time, it is not happy with Chinese advances in the Indo-Pacific region, and has similar views on this issue as the U.S. and Japan, according to Pankaj Jha, an associate professor of defense and strategic affairs at India's O.P. Jindal Global University.

However, Shamshad Khan, visiting research fellow at the Policy Research Institute, felt India was not entirely in sync with the U.S. and Japan when it came to the Indo-Pacific. "India wants this construct to be inclusive [taking China onboard too]," he said. "The U.S. and Japan, on the other hand, want to isolate China so that it moderates its aggressive behavior."

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