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(From left) US secretary of defence Mark Esper, secretary of state Mike Pompeo, Indian defence minister Rajnath Singh and foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar in New Delhi on Tuesday. Reuters
(From left) US secretary of defence Mark Esper, secretary of state Mike Pompeo, Indian defence minister Rajnath Singh and foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar in New Delhi on Tuesday. Reuters

India, US ink key strategic pacts

  • A joint statement spoke of reinforcing ties in health against the backdrop of the covid pandemic, supply chain resilience, keeping the Indo-Pacific region free and open, defence innovation, counter-terrorism, energy, space, cybersecurity and education

India on Tuesday announced a deepening of ties across the spectrum with the US but stopping short of a formal alliance even as the two sides signed a key strategic pact allowing the sharing of satellite-gathered real-time intelligence.

A joint statement released after the third India-US 2+2 talks—between the foreign and defence ministers of the two countries—spoke of reinforcing ties in health against the backdrop of the covid pandemic, supply chain resilience, keeping the Indo-Pacific region free and open, defence innovation, counter-terrorism, energy, space, cybersecurity and education.

‘The ministers looked forward to the conclusion of an overarching MoU between India’s ministry of health and family welfare and the US department of health and human services, including their component agencies and departments, to enhance health cooperation, including on health emergencies and pandemics, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of communicable and non-communicable diseases, and biomedical research and innovation," the statement said.

On the ‘Quad’ arrangement that brings together India, the US, Australia and Japan, the statement said the four ministers “welcomed the fact that these consultations would now be held annually. They expressed support for further strengthening of Quad cooperation through expanded activities, including initiating a dialogue among the development organizations of partner countries," it said.

The highlight of the day was the signing of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (Beca) that will allow sharing of high-end military technologies, geospatial maps and classified satellite-data between the Indian and US militaries. The data will allow India to map precise enemy positions during any potential border conflict, said analysts.

That US secretary of state Mike Pompeo and secretary of defence Mark Esper travelled to New Delhi in person at the time of the pandemic and amid India’s military standoff with China for the 2+2 talks is seen as a signal of the warmth Delhi now shares with Washington.

“By signing the last of the four so-called foundational agreements, India has formally become a close defence partner of the US. Making this ‘soft alliance’ meaningful in practice will be more challenging, given the US military normally collaborates with treaty-based allies," Brahma Chellaney, an analyst with the New Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research think tank, said in a Twitter post.

He was referring to pacts India and the US have signed before, including a logistics support pact and another to procure specialized equipment for encrypted communications for US-origin military platforms.

In his remarks at the end of the talks, foreign minister S. Jaishankar underlined the growing convergences between New Delhi and Washington.

“The 2+2 dialogue has a pol-mil (political-military) agenda that underlines our close bilateral ties," Jaishankar said.

In a not-so-subtle message to China, Jaishankar said: “The Indo-Pacific region was a particular focus of our talks."

“We reiterated the importance of peace, stability and prosperity for all countries in this region," he said in a possible reference to tensions triggered by China’s aggressive behaviour in the South China Sea, East China Sea and the Taiwan Straits and Ladakh. “As raksha mantri (defence minister Rajnath Singh) stated, this is possible only by upholding the rules-based international order, ensuring the freedom of navigation in the international seas, promoting open connectivity and respecting the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all states," he said.

“A multi-polar world must have a multi-polar Asia as its basis," Jaishankar added pointedly, a sign that India would not accept Chinese hegemony or aggression.

Pompeo and Esper named China with the former referring to the clash between Indian and Chinese troops in Ladakh on 15 June. “The US will stand with India as they confront threats to their sovereignty and liberty," he said.

“The challenge of the pandemic that came from Wuhan also fed into discussions about the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)," he said. “Our leaders and our citizens see with increasing clarity that the CCP is no friend to democracy, the rule of law, transparency, the freedom of navigation and free open and prosperous Indo Pacific."

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