Amid a military standoff with China in Ladakh, India and the United States began a landmark 2 2 ministerial dialogue, which will cement foundations of a novel strategic partnership covering the broad sweep of the entire Indo-Pacific region, with the Communist Party of China (CPC) as the focal point.
Ahead of the dialogue, before embarking on the visit, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made his intent clear. "I'm sure that my meetings will include discussions on how free nations can work together to thwart threats posed by the Chinese Communist Party."
To begin with, the dialogue has paved the way for signing on Tuesday of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) for Geo Spatial cooperation. The deal to be signed by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and his visiting counterpart Mark Esper entails sharing of classified satellite and sensor data.
Going into the fine detail, Professor Rakesh Datta of the Department of Defence and National Security Studies, Punjab University, and former member, National Security Advisory Board, explained to the FPJ that the exchange will foster accuracy of automated systems and weapons like missiles and armed drones. It will also equip the Indian military with a high-quality GPS system to navigate and hit targets with real-time intelligence.
BECA is the last of the foundational agreements to be signed by India and the US. Both countries thus far have been sharing real-time intelligence under the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement which was signed in 2018. India and the US signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement in 2016 and the General Security of Military Information Agreement in 2002.
During the meeting in South Block, the Defence Minister enlarged upon the initiatives taken under ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ to make a pitch for investments in the defence industry and invited US companies to avail of the liberalised policies and the favourable defence eco system.
It is understood that China’s aggressive posturing, including the friction along the Line of Actual Control with India, was discussed in a meeting between Rajnath Singh and Mark Esper. “The two ministers reviewed military to military cooperation, information sharing, defence trade and industrial issues and also discussed ways to take the bilateral cooperation forward,’’ according to the Defence Ministry.
Incidentally, Pompeo’s visit marks the fourth visit to India by a Secretary of State during the Trump administration.
According to Professor Datta, dialogues that result in signing of crucial strategic linkages is always welcome, provided one is mindful of their presumed political continuity. The signing of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement will help both the countries share geospatial information on maps and satellites for defence purposes, in view of the common threat that the two countries are facing from China. This visit also holds significance in view of the heightened tension at the LAC.
The two US top officials have arrived in the Indian capital following the meeting in Tokyo of the Indo-Pacific Quad comprising India, US, Australia and Japan on October 6. The quartet will hold Malabar naval exercises next month in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea. With its economic and geopolitical heft declining, the US is seeking active partnership of the Quad that would collectively disallow Chinese domination of the Indo-Pacific.