By Sarwar Kashani
Srinagar, Oct 26 (efe-epa).- Days ahead of elections in the United States, President Donald Trump’s top military and foreign policy aides arrived in New Delhi on Monday to boost India-US security ties and counter China’s growing clout in the region.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary arrived in the Indian capital in separate planes and will hold the third India-US 2+2 ministerial talks with their Indian counterparts, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Rajnath Singh, on Tuesday.
The two countries are likely to sign the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), a satellite data exchange pact that will allow India access US geospatial intelligence data for better accuracy of missiles, drones, and automated military hardware systems.
The geospatial pact is one of the four foundational agreements that a country needs to sign to be a “Major Defense Partner” of the US.
The other three, which India has already signed, are related to defense communications, intelligence, and logistics exchange for interoperability between the militaries of the two countries.
The US has also inked these pacts, usually limited to NATO allies, with Japan, South Korea, and Australia.
Washington is looking up to New Delhi and the three major powers in the Indo-Pacific to contain the alleged Chinese military expansionist aims in India’s backyard, threatening sea trade on the critical maritime line.
The visit by Pompeo and Esper, which comes a week before the presidential polls, in which Trump is seeking a second term, will boost ties between India and the US, who are both involved in conflicts with China in Himalayan borders of Ladakh and the Indo-Pacific region, respectively.
Michael Kugelman, from the non-partisan Wilson Center think-tank in Washington, told EFE that the timing of the trip, “perhaps, suggests” that the Trump administration intends to demonstrate the US bipartisan commitment to its ties with India.
“In effect, come what may with election and potential changes in party leadership, the US-India relationship will remain strong. And that is certainly true,” said Kugelman, who looks after the South Asia chapter of the Woodrow Wilson center’s Asia program.
“This trip was bound to happen anyway, given the emphasis on maintaining a regular schedule of meetings on the 2+2 platform.”
The escalating Sino-India border tension, which left at least 20 Indian soldiers dead in a physical brawl with Chinese troops in June, has added to the list China’s disputes with the US over the trade, Taiwan, Hong Kong, coronavirus outbreak, and the South China Sea.
Kugelman said Beijing would see Pompeo and Esper’s trip “for what it is.”
He said it was another indication of a deepening partnership between Washington and New Delhi “driven in great part by shared concern about China’s increasing clout and problematic behavior in the Indo-Pacific.”
The US State Department in a statement called India a “regional and global leader” and said the two countries have “a strong and growing bilateral relationship built on shared values and a commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
The statement said the third US-India 2+2 ministerial dialogue in just over two years demonstrated “high-level commitment to our shared diplomatic and security objectives.”
“We are expanding cooperation between our two militaries. This includes our navies, which play a critical role in ensuring freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific,” the statement said.
The two militaries earlier this year held joint naval exercises through the Indian Ocean region after their first tri-services drills last year.
Defense trade has also increased significantly over the past two decades.