US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo opened talks in India on Monday, kicking off a four-country Asia tour that he has said will focus on the “threats” posed by China.
Pompeo and Defence Secretary Mark Esper, who is joining him for the two-day visit, will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday amid heightened tensions since a border clash between India and China in June.
Pompeo opened his trip with talks and a dinner with External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, who tweeted that relations between the emerging allies have “grown substantially in every domain.”
The State Department said that the two top diplomats discussed “regional security issues” and collaboration on a vaccine against Covid-19, which has hit the two countries hard.
Pompeo and Esper will hold “two-plus-two” talks Tuesday with Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh at which India could raise the need for US cold-weather equipment amid its showdown with China in freezing Himalayan weather.
The world’s two biggest democracies are expected to sign an agreement on sharing geo-spatial intelligence, paving the way for the United States to ship sophisticated missile technology, officials said.
On the India-US two plus two dialogue in Delhi today amid the waning moments of President Trump's current White House term: Raja Mandala: A poll-proof relationship https://t.co/PgUlN5x581 via @IndianExpress
— C. Raja Mohan (@MohanCRaja) October 26, 2020
Esper will also be discussing ways to increase cooperation between the two countries’ military forces. This could include intelligence sharing, stepping up joint exercises, and arms sales — including possibly US F-18 fighter jets.
Pompeo will go on from India to Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Indonesia, all of which have a key role in Indian Ocean maritime traffic where China has cast a greater shadow.
The US secretary of state said ahead of the trip that his meetings would “include discussions on how free nations can work together to thwart threats posed by the Chinese Communist Party”.
Pompeo is accompanied by his wife Susan, who has no official role but frequently has joined him on his foreign travel, drawing scrutiny in Washington.
India, US to sign intelligence accord
India and the United States will on Tuesday sign an accord on sharing sensitive information ahead of talks between their defence and foreign ministers that will focus on countering China’s growing influence.
US Defence Secretary Mark Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will meet India’s External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh as Indian and Chinese troops face off at their disputed Himalayan border.
The Pompeo-Esper visit to New Delhi is part of a concerted US campaign to draw India into a deeper defence relationship. Esper and Singh “reinforced their commitment to deepening military-to-military cooperation” during talks on Monday, said a US Defense Department statement.
Jaishankar tweeted after his talks with Pompeo that relations between the emerging allies have “grown substantially in every domain”. Both sides said that an accord on sharing geospatial intelligence would be signed during the day.
Warm and productive meeting with @SecPompeo. Discussed key bilateral, regional and global issues. Reviewed progress in ties: grown substantially in every domain. Our foreign policy consultations and cooperation have expanded. pic.twitter.com/5HNbXQKi5S
— Dr. S. Jaishankar (@DrSJaishankar) October 26, 2020
The Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement will allow the US to share top-secret satellite and sensor data that would help India in targeting its missiles and placing troops. It will also allow the US to provide the latest navigational technology on any fighter jets it supplies to India.
Esper has been pressing the case for India to buy US F-18 jets and move away from its reliance on Russian weaponry. Esper and Singh “welcomed the expansion of information-sharing”, the US statement said. An Indian Defence Ministry statement said the two ministers discussed potential new areas of cooperation, without giving details.
Pompeo said on Monday his four-country Asia tour would focus on the threats posed by China, a topic that is expected to take a key place in the “two-plus-two” ministerial talks.
India’s arch-rival neighbour was not mentioned publicly after Monday’s meetings but the US statement said Esper and Singh “agreed to continue to work in partnership to address pressing global security challenges”.
India has sought greater international military support since the eruption of its latest deadly border showdown with China in June. At least 20 Indian soldiers were killed in the clash while Chinese casualties are unknown.
Both sides have since sent tens of thousands of troops to either side of the disputed frontier in the Ladakh region and are digging in for a long, hard winter in the high-altitude region. India is shopping for US cold-weather equipment, officials said.
India has also since agreed to expand naval manoeuvres in the Indian Ocean in November to include Australia. Traditionally, the MALABAR exercises have involved India, the US and Japan.
US officials have said they want the four-nation Quad alliance to be given a more permanent structure in moves that China’s foreign ministry said it had “noted”.
Pompeo will go on from India to Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Indonesia. China’s growing investment and influence in Sri Lanka and the Maldives have sparked concern in both the US and India.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk