Home >Politics >Policy >Indian, US defence officials hold first maritime security dialogue

New Delhi: India and the US on Monday launched their first maritime security dialogue with discussions centering on strategic maritime security issues and maritime challenges in the Asia-Pacific region, a US embassy statement said.

The start of the dialogue was one of the agreements reached between the two countries during the visit to India in April by US defence secretary Ashton Carter, and it comes against the backdrop of increased Indian naval engagement in the Indian Ocean and South-East Asia, the US “pivot" or “rebalance" towards Asia and America looking at India to step up its role in the region.

The two countries have on at least two occasions put out a joint strategic vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean regions, calling for the freedom of navigation and unimpeded movement of ships through the global commons or high seas, in an oblique reference to China putting embargos on the movement of ships and airplanes through the disputed waters of the South China Sea.

According to the US embassy statement, “among the issues discussed were Asia-Pacific maritime challenges, naval cooperation and multilateral engagement". The Indian side did not give out any details.

The US delegation included assistant secretary of defence for Asian and Pacific security affairs David Shear, deputy assistant secretary of state for south and central Asian affairs Manpreet Anand and vice admiral Joseph P. Aucoin, commander, US Seventh Fleet, the largest of the forward deployed fleets of the US Navy and headquartered in Yokosuka, Japan.

The Seventh Fleet’s area of operation encompasses 36 maritime countries, including China, Russia and India, besides five US defence treaty allies—the Philippines, Australia, South Korea, Japan and Thailand.

The India-US dialogue comes as India and the US are warily eyeing the rise of China as are the Asian giant’s smaller SouthEast Asian neighbours such as the Philippines and Vietnam who are locked in maritime disputes with China.

China building artificial islands in the waters of the South China Sea is also upsetting its smaller neighbours.

A US department of defence report over the weekend said China was expected to add substantial military infrastructure, including communications and surveillance systems, to artificial islands in the South China Sea this year.

It said the planned addition will give China long-term “civil-military bases" in the contested waters and estimated that China’s reclamation work had added more than 3,200 acres (1,300 hectares) on seven features it occupied in the Spratly Islands in the space of two years.

India has been wary of increased Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean that it considers its backyard as well as reports of Chinese bases coming up in countries like Djibouti. Indian naval ships have in recent months increased their port calls along the Gulf and coast of Africa as well as in South-East Asia.

The US’s rebalancing towards Asia, announced in 2011, means assigning higher priority and political, economic and security resources to the Asia-Pacific region because of its dynamism and the increased assertiveness of a rising China, watched warily by many countries in the region.

The rebalancing includes the strengthening of relationships with allies such as Australia and partners like India and Indonesia, a more extensive and structured relationship with the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean), drawing these countries into the US’s economic sphere of influence with pacts such as the Trans-Pacific partnership, as well as maintaining a stable relationship with China.

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