NEW DELHI: India and the US on Thursday discussed ways to deepen their defence partnership including cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, during a visit by Randall G. Schriver, Assistant Secretary of Defence for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs starting on Thursday.
Schriver who held talks with officials in India’s defence ministry, is the second Trump administration official to visit India this week. Alice Wells, principal deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of South and Central Asia Affairs was earlier in New Delhi for talks on issues including the ending of US sanctions exemptions on oil imports from Iran.
“Excellent meeting with Randy Schriver, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs. Discussed opportunities for further collaboration with our major defence partner," said Ken Juster, US ambassador to India said in a Twitter post.
Schriver’s visit to New Delhi follows comments he made last month before the US House of Representatives Armed Services Committee where he had said that the “US-India relationship is moving toward deeper security cooperation by increasing operational cooperation and availing key maritime security capabilities."
Indian and US officials note how defence ties between the two countries have warmed up over the past two decades – from almost zero to $18 billion last year. The two countries also hold bilateral military exercises. India and the US together with Australia and Japan are engaged in talks on a “free and open Indo-Pacific."
The US official’s India visit coincided with China opened a three day international conference on its ambitious Belt and Road infrastructure Initiative (BRI) that aims to connect Asia to Europe and Africa through massive investments in maritime, road and rail projects. The initiative promises to bring much-needed modern infrastructure to developing countries, but the US has described it as a "vanity project" and critics have warned that it is a "debt trap" favouring Chinese companies.
Leaders of 37 countries are expected to attend the BRI conference including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, whose country became the first G7 member to sign up to Belt and Road. Germany and France have sent ministers but the US is giving the conference a miss as is India. Neither are sending a representative to the conference.
"We call upon all countries to ensure that their economic diplomacy initiatives adhere to internationally-accepted norms and standards, promote sustainable, inclusive development, and advance good governance and strong economic institutions," a US embassy spokesperson quoted by AFP said.
India on its part is boycotting the event as one strand of the BRI runs through Pakistan administered Kashmir which India says is violating its sovereignty.
In his comments before the US House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, Schriver last month had warned of “a more assertive and confident China that is willing to accept friction in the pursuit of its interests."
On the BRI, Schriver said: “China is utilizing tools such as the One Belt, One Road to erode the sovereignty of other countries and induce them to behave in accordance with Chinese interests."
Schriver’s India visit also coincided with the end of a three-day Indian Navy’s commanders’ in New Delhi. One of the subjects on the agenda was “the Indian Navy’s sustained prominence as the first responder for HADR and its role as the Net Security Provider" in the Indian Ocean Region that was reviewed by the commanders, a statement from the Indian navy said. “The Navy’s partnering with many Friendly Foreign Countries for developing comprehensive Maritime Domain Awareness... concluding numerous defence cooperation agreements related to logistics, training and operations, which are a testimony to its primacy in the sphere of defence diplomacy in the wider Indo Pacific region and beyond were also reviewed during the conference," the statement said.