By DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT
NEW DELHI: India and the United States are taking a decisive step forward in bilateral relations, as the two democracies set to sign two major defence cooperation agreements; with an aggressive China principally at the back of India’s mind.
US secretary of state Mike Pompeo and US defence secretary Mark T Esper arrived here on Monday for the third leg of the two-plus-two talks involving defence minister Rajnath Singh and external affairs minister S Jaishankar, among a battery of top officials from the two ministries. The talks are set for Tuesday. This is a follow-up to the first two 2+2 talks held in New Delhi in September 2018 and the second in Washington in 2019.
Military-to-military interaction and defence trade including supply of material, rather military replenishment in emergency situations, will form a significant part of the present talks. This is short of a full-fledged military cooperation, which too is likely in the near future. In such an event, any attack on India by China could mean the US too is at hand to take on the red nation.
This is something that the US has been proposing for long, but India had its reservations, it being in the close neighbourhood of China. However, Xi’s aggressive postures against India is likely to change the scenario in favour of closer India-US ties at the military level. This, irrespective of whether or not the Trump Administration will continue after the US polls later this year. A new US government will take charge in January next; it could be Trump or Joe Biden of the Democrats.
Official sources here said a scale-up in defence cooperation between India and the US is imperative as the regional security situation has worsened.
The Chinese PLA is bent on provoking India and a fresh part of Indian land in the Ladakh region has been usurped upon, over and above the huge swathes of land the Chinese have taken away from India during the 1962 war. Neither the then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru nor successive Indian governments have shown any resolve to get back these lands.
India has, during the two terms of the Modi government, made special efforts to strengthen the infrastructure in the northern and western border regions, to enable faster military movement. While China too has been doing this on its side of the LAC, it is trying to browbeat India into submission and stoppage of the infra-development in the region. Alongside, China is also being aggressive against the US interests in the South China Sea and beyond in recent years, browbeating small nations in the vicinity.
China is also scheming with the military generals in Pakistan bent on needling India, to create a situation of a simultaneous two-front war against India, with China on the northern side and Pakistan in the western sector. Indian Army is well-prepared to face any such eventuality, but the Modi government has made it clear that it will leave no stone unturned in its resolve to protect the borders.
The US is upbeat about a step-up in bilateral relations with India. The Trump administration said, “As outlined in our National Security Strategy, the United States welcomes India’s emergence as a leading regional and global power. The United States looks forward to collaborating closely with India during its upcoming term on the UN Security Council.”
Indications are that the signing of the agreement would allow the US to share precision satellite and topographical data from its constellation of military satellites on a real time basis.
Mike Pompeo tweeted before his departure to India: “Wheels up for my trip to India, Sri Lanka, Maldives, and Indonesia. Grateful for the opportunity to connect with our partners to promote a shared vision for a free and open IndoPacific composed of independent, strong, and prosperous nations. ” This, notably, is the fourth visit by Pompeo to India during the past four years of the Trump administration, signifying a growing understanding at multiple levels between India and the US.
The recent Quadrilateral Ministerial meeting in Tokyo convened by Pompeo and attended by external affairs minister S Jaishankar and their counterparts from Japan, and Australia was a step forward in the Quad initiative for regional security and against Chinese military designs in the seas. The US said the meeting demonstrated the strong cooperative ties among Indo-Pacific democracies interested in strengthening a rules-based order in which all nations are sovereign, strong, and prosperous.
Meanwhile, India, the US, Japan and Australia will hold the high-level Malabar Naval Exercise in the Arabian Sea in November. Australia is participating in the high-level naval exercise for the first time after China took objection to its participation in 2007. -INO-NN
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