By Sarwar Kashani
Srinagar, India, Oct 27 (efe-epa).- The United States on Tuesday signed an important military agreement with India for sharing sensitive satellite data as the two countries vowed to further deepen their defense ties amid concerns over the growing Chinese influence and power in South Asia and the Indo-Pacific.
As the US ramped up its pressure on China, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who arrived in New Delhi on Monday with Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, warned of the threat to security and freedom by an “increasingly assertive China.”
“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 to freedom of navigation, the foundation of a free and open, prosperous Indo-Pacific,” he said.
Pompeo was speaking at a joint news conference with Esper and their respective Indian counterparts, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Rajnath Singh.
The two sides signed the defense agreement in New Delhi following the third round of the India-US 2+2 ministerial talks.
“We achieved a significant milestone today with signing of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement, the last of the foundational defense agreements between our countries, which enables greater geo-spatial information sharing between our armed forces,” Esper said.
Rajnath Singh said the pact, which will allow India to access US satellite intelligence data for better accuracy of missiles, drones and automated military hardware systems, “will open new avenues in the information sharing.”
The agreement, one of the four foundational pacts that a country needs to sign to be a “major defense partner” of the US, would enable the US to share with India advanced navigational aids and avionics on American aircraft.
The other three agreements, 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 the South China Sea, threatening sea trade on the critical maritime line.
Esper said the India-US defense partnership was “based on our shared values and common interest” as the two countries “stand shoulder-to-shoulder for a free and open India-Pacific for all.”
“We reaffirmed our commitment to a comprehensive and forward-looking defense partnership with India and discuss the opportunity to expand our regional cooperation, military-to-military interaction and defense trade relations.”
The strategic proximity of the two countries comes as Sino-US ties have deteriorated over a range of issues in the past few years.
The disputes include a trade war, coronavirus pandemic outbreak, new security law in Hong Kong, and Chinese territorial ambitions in the South China Sea.
India is also locked in a bitter border dispute with China as military tensions rose dramatically earlier this year near the disputed Himalayan border in the northern Ladakh sector, where Chinese soldiers killed 20 Indian troops in a physical brawl in June.
Pompeo referred to the killing of Indian soldiers as he paid tribute at a war memorial in the Indian capital.
“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 said.
The defense cooperation between India and the US has deepened over the past few years.