Washington: Within a fortnight of the highly successful India visit of President Barack Obama, a top Pentagon official has identified New Delhi as a “natural ally” of the US with which the defence ties is getting stronger.
The state of the defence relationship with India is “very positive and very strong and getting stronger,” Michele Flournoy, the undersecretary of Defence for Policy, said in an interview to the American Forces Press Service.
India, she said, is the second-most populated nation in the world after China and a natural ally to the US.
The Indians, Flournoy said, want to cooperate with the US. The Indian military frequently conducts exercises with the United States and there is a vital exchange programme between the two nations.
“We’re trying to move into areas where we can be more cooperative operationally—like maritime security or humanitarian assistance and disaster relief,” she said, adding, “They have a lot of capability and a lot of well-trained people and they are great partners. We are looking to grow that relationship over time.”
Meanwhile, she said Chinese have used its military relationship with the US more as a “rheostat” and her country would like to have a military-to-military relationship with Beijing that is as comprehensive and collaborative as they have on diplomatic and economic issues.
“The Chinese have used the military relationship more as a rheostat. It’s on when everything is happy,” she said.
“When we make a defensive arms sale to Taiwan, for example, the rheostat is turned down. Or if the president receives the Dalai Lama in the White House, the rheostat is turned down,” said Flournoy.
Military-to-military relations have instead gone on and off, as if they were controlled by a dimmer switch, she observed.
But the Chinese are now ready to return to military discussions with the United States, Flournoy said, noting US and Chinese officials sat down in Hawaii to discuss maritime security and safety issues. The undersecretary said she was pleased with those discussions.
“I’m going to be welcoming my counterpart in December—General Ma Xiaotian —to Washington and we’ll have a very comprehensive and, we hope, candid and productive set on talks on defense policy,” she said.
The talks, she said, will pave the way for defence secretary Robert M Gates’ trip to China early next year. The talks also are seen as a conduit for a full calendar of US-Chinese military-to-military exchanges and exercises in 2011.