Hong Kong: A nuclear-powered US aircraft carrier will return to India next month despite angry protests, highlighting closer military ties between the two nations.
The USS Nimitz, one of the world’s largest warships, will head back to the Bay of Bengal the first week of September to participate in a joint exercise involving 25 ships from India, Australia and Singapore.
It will be the carrier’s second visit to India in two months, having been near the country’s southern coast in Chennai in July, which was seen as a landmark event in the growing defence ties between Washington and New Delhi.
The ship’s arrival was marred by protests organized by left-wing and opposition political parties which said the Congress-led government should not allow a US warship to dock in Indian waters.
But during a port visit to Hong Kong, Admiral John Terence Blake, the carrier’s commander, stressed the September exercise was routine practice and that the US was committed to promoting “peace and stability in the region.”
“India is just one nation out there and one we intend to be talking to on a routine basis,” he told AFP. According to him representatives from US and India did hold discussions in July about nuclear power issues.
“We were able to dispel a lot of innuendos and rumours that occurred,” he said, adding he believed such talks have helped to clear up “a lot of misconceptions.”
The Indian government has defended the visit of the 333-metre (1,100-feet) long warship which has a crew of 5,000 and more than 60 fighter jets on board.
The visit comes amid a controversial Indo-US nuclear deal that will allow New Delhi to buy atomic fuel, technology and plants, although critics say it will limit India’s strategic options.
India’s communists are also worried that the agreement will lead to US interference in the country’s foreign policy.
India and the US have stepped up joint military exercises as part of improved ties, which were boosted in 2005 when they set aside Cold War mistrust and signed the first stage of the historic civilian nuclear energy transfer deal.
The USS Nimitz departed from its home port of San Diego in April and has been in the Persian Gulf twice since.
It finished an eight-day training exercise with the air force, marine corps and coast guard in Guam last week before heading to Hong Kong.