In the waning days of the first term of the Trump administration, India and the US signed the last of the defence foundational pacts and explored enhanced collaboration in the Indo-Pacific with a view to balancing China’s assertive postures in the region.
The wide-ranging 2+2 ministerial talks between India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Mark Esper in New Delhi on October 27 set the stage for an upswing in the India-US strategic partnership regardless of who is in the White House after the November elections.
The major takeaway of the third edition of the 2+2 India-US ministerial dialogue was the signing of the BECA, the last of the foundational agreements, that will bring the world’s two largest democracies in an unprecedented strategic embrace.
The Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) was signed between India’s Ministry of Defence and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), Department of Defense of the US. “The ministers applauded the significant step of the signing of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA),” said the joint statement after the talks. The BECA will help scale multi-faceted Major Defense Partnership (MDP) between India and the United States to new heights.
The ministers “also welcomed enhanced maritime information sharing and maritime domain awareness between their Navies and affirmed their commitment to build upon existing defense information-sharing at the joint-service and service-to-service levels and explore potential new areas of mutually beneficial cooperation,” the statement said.
Going forward, the India-US defence partnership is set to open new vistas for defense consultation and collaboration to expand cooperative capacity-building efforts with partners across the region.
“They also affirmed their commitment to pursue increased cooperation between the Indian military and U.S. Central Command and Africa Command, including broader participation in exercises and conferences, so as to promote shared security interests,” said the joint statement.
In his remarks at the joint press conference, Dr Jaishankar said: “The 2+2 dialogue has a political and military agenda that underlines our close bilateral relationship. Our national security convergences have obviously grown in a more multi-polar world.”
“We meet today to not only advance our own interests but to ensure that our bilateral cooperation makes a positive contribution in the world arena. We are also committed to addressing together global issues ranging from HADR situations to maritime security and counter-terrorism,” he said.
Focus on China
Mr Jaishankar also pitched for enhanced India-US collaboration in shaping a multi-polar Asia and a rules-based international order.
While Indian ministers didn’t name China in their remarks, Mr Pompeo was quite upfront and launched diatribes against the Chinese Communist Party. Mr Pompeo assured that the US “stands with India to deal with any threat”. Against the backdrop of India’s continuing stand-off with the Chinese troops at the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh, he also expressed his country’s support for India in its efforts to “defend its sovereignty”. “The US will stand with India in its efforts to defend its sovereignty and its liberty… Our nations are committed to working together into expanding our partnerships across many fronts,” he added.
“Our leaders and our citizens see with increasing clarity that the Chinese Communist Party is no friend to democracy, the rule of law, transparency nor the freedom of navigation, the foundation of a free and open and prosperous Indo-Pacific,” said Mr Pompeo.
“I’m glad to say India and the US are taking all steps to strengthen cooperation against all threats and not just those posed by the CCP,” he added.
Mr Pompeo’s remarks in New Delhi look set to elicit sharp reaction from Beijing, which has often suspected the US of roping in India in an elaborate containment plan.
- Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org) and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.
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