USA, India agree to boost maritime coop as concerns grow over Beijing

U.S. Defence Secretary Ashton Carter (L) shakes hands with Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar after a press conference in New Delhi on April 12, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / Prakash SINGH

New Delhi / AFP

US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and his Indian counterpart agreed on Tuesday to strengthen their cooperation on maritime security, as concerns grow in Washington over Beijing’s growing military ambitions.
Carter is in New Delhi to bolster a strategic relationship Washington considers crucial in the face of what it sees as China’s rising assertiveness, particularly in the South China Sea.
“Both sides agreed to strengthen cooperation in the area of maritime security,” said a joint statement issued after Carter held talks with Indian Defence Minister ManoharParrikar.
The two sides “reaffirmed the importance of safeguarding maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation and over flight throughout the region, including in the South China Sea,” said the statement. Washington has increasingly turned its focus to Asia as it tries to counter China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea, and is eager for India to play a greater role in its network of regional defence alliances.
Regional superpower China is expanding its deep-water naval presence and staking a claim to disputed areas of the South China Sea and the East China Sea.
Beijing claims almost all of the contested South China Sea, which is important for international shipping, and has in recent months built massive structures including radar systems and an airstrip over reefs and outcrops.
It has also courted countries in the Indian Ocean, pouring money into the Maldives and Sri Lanka to the annoyance of New Delhi, which regards those countries as part of its sphere of influence.
A senior US defence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said China was “operating more frequently both throughout Southeast Asia and in the Indian Ocean”, something both Washington and New Delhi were “watching closely”.
Carter will also hold talks with Prime Minister NarendraModi during the three-day visit, aimed at shoring up security and defence ties with regional power India. Modi, who enjoys close ties with US President Barack Obama, has in the past criticised what he called China’s “expansionist mindset”. Carter said after his meeting with Parrikar that the two countries had agreed “in principle” to share and exchange military logistics, a deal which has been in the pipeline for years and would allow the two countries to expand military cooperation.
But there was no final agreement on a series of deals under negotiation.

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