US secretary of state Micheal R Pompeo on Tuesday wrapped up the India leg of his four-nation tour to power an alliance against Chinese aggression that he underlined not only impacts India but other countries as well. Pompeo arrived along with defense secretary Mark Esper on Monday for the annual US-India 2+2 strategic dialogue.
As he ended his meetings in New Delhi, Pompeo promised at a media briefing on Monday that the United States would stand with the people of India as they confront threats to their sovereignty and to their liberty, a not-so-oblique reference to Indian soldiers standing up to China’s People’s Liberation Army for more than five months in the East Ladakh sector.
Pompeo and Esper also indicated that the Chinese actions in Ladakh, South China Sea, Senkaku Islands and trade wars with Australia were discussed and assessment shared on how to counter them.
The two sides also signed a bunch of five pacts including BECA, or Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement, to share sensitive satellite and map data. This agreement – Esper called it a “significant milestone” – will give India access to topographical, nautical and aeronautical data vital for pinpointed attacks using missiles and armed drones.
BECA clears the path for India acquiring armed drones in the first instance and at a later date, fighter aircraft. Esper alluded to the discussions around this topic when he announced that the US planned to sell more fighter planes and drones to India. He did not elaborate.
India has been looking at buying medium-altitude long-endurance armed Predator-B drones from the US instead of the unarmed drones that it had planned earlier. An Indian official said New Delhi had been earlier offered F-16 and F-18 fighters but India was looking at Boeing’s F-15EX fighters that the aircraft manufacturer hasn’t yet been licensed to sell abroad.
“There is a possibility that the F-15EX could be sold on a government-to-government basis,” a top government official familiar with the discussions told Hindustan Times. “Never before have we achieved so much in so little time,” a second official said, underscoring that he had never seen “such a positive attitude” on either side of the talks table.
He also suggested that there was a slow, but gradual change in New Delhi’s approach to dealing with China that has been a hush word in India diplomacy.
A decision to place an Indian liaison officer in the US 5th Fleet headquarters in Bahrain has been taken. The United States would also depute a liaison officer at the Indian Information Fusion Centre (IFC) of Indian Navy that monitors the Indian Ocean region.
A second official said the Indian linkup with the US central command and African command indicates that the two countries have bonded on hard security issues. “It is quite evident from the 2+2 dialogue today that India has completely integrated with other members of the four-nation QUAD – Australia and Japan are the other two members – to monitor the Indian Pacific region,” he said.
The participation of Australian Navy in the Malabar exercises in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea later this month will add to maritime heft of the QUAD that is expected to undertake more complex naval maneuvers.
Esper told reporters that the two countries’ focus must now “be on institutionalising and regularising our cooperation to meet the challenges of the day and uphold the principles of a free and open Indo-Pacific well into the future.”
That, he said, is particularly important ”in light of increasing aggression and destabilising actions by China.”
Jaishankar and Rajnath Singh didn’t name China but left no one in doubt when they spoke about the importance of peace, stability and prosperity for all countries in the region. The Indo-Pacific region was a “particular focus of our talks”, Jaishankar told reporters, and made it clear that China’s effort to dominate Asia was not acceptable to India when he underlined that a “multi-polar world must have a multi-polar Asia as its basis”.
Jaishankar had set the tone right at the start of Tuesday morning’s 2+2 strategic dialogue when he also pushed hard for closer India-US cooperation in defence and foreign policy. “The ability of India and the US to work closely in defence and foreign policy has a larger resonance. Together, we can make a real difference when it comes to regional and global challenges, whether it is in respecting territorial integrity, promoting maritime domain awareness, countering terrorism or ensuring prosperity,” the minister said as he laid stress on the importance of upholding a rules-based international order.
It seems that the hesitation on India’s part to embrace the US for its national interest is finally gone. The die has been cast and it doesn’t matter who wins the presidential election.