India gets access to US military satellites with new defence pact

India and the United States have signed a defence pact giving the South Asian country access to real-time data and topographical images from US military satellites.

The pact reflects the growing convergence of interests between New Delhi and Washington, particularly as both show growing concern over China, which is currently embroiled in a border row with India.

The Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement or Beca was signed during the visit of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Mark Esper, who are in India for a high-level security dialogue.

The two US officials held talks on Tuesday (Oct 27) with their Indian counterparts, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, on greater military cooperation, the security situation in the Indo-Pacific, the pandemic and greater defence cooperation.

While the Indian leaders did not directly mention China, Mr Pompeo pledged support for New Delhi in the border stand-off which followed a violent clash in June in the Galwan Valley in Ladakh that left 20 Indian soldiers and an unknown number of Chinese troops dead.

It was the worst such incident involving troops from the two sides in over four decades. India and China are currently holding military and diplomatic talks to resolve the problem.

Mr Pompeo said that the two sides had talks on the Covid-19 pandemic, which led to “robust discussions” on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

He said: “The US will stand with the people of India as they confront threats to their sovereignty and to their liberties… 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… the foundation of a free and prosperous Indo-Pacific.”

“The US and India are taking steps to strengthen our cooperation against all manners of threat and not just those posed by the Chinese Communist Party,” the US Secretary of State added at a press conference. after the talks.

Mr Esper echoed the sentiment, describing ties with India as “resilient and growing.”

“As the world confronts a global pandemic and growing security challenges, the US-India partnership is more important than ever to ensure security, stability and prosperity of the region and the world.

“We stand shoulder to shoulder in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific for all, particularly in light of increasing aggression and destabilising activities by China,” he said.

The US Defence Secretary also noted that India’s recent decision to include Australia in the Malabar naval exercises, involving India, Japan and the US, “reflects an acknowledgement of the importance of working multilaterally to address global challenges”.

All four countries belong to the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, which is also known as the Quad, an informal security forum seen by China as a way to contain its growth.

India has over the years been wary of involving Australia in the naval exercises because of China. But the border troubles have seen New Delhi shed its inhibitions as it seeks to counter Beijing’s rise and its growing influence in South Asia.

Defence cooperation between India and the US has deepened in recent years as Washington sharpened its focus on the Indo-Pacific region, on the back of concerns about Chinese moves in the region.

In 2016, the US designated India as a major defence partner and also went ahead with an agreement to allow for the sharing of each other’s military bases for refuelling or the repair of aircraft and naval warships. In 2018, both sides signed the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement to exchange military logistics and enable secure communications. The two earlier pacts and Beca indicate increasing interoperability between the US and Indian militaries.

India’s leaders, while not referring directly to China, have pushed for a multipolar Asia and greater cooperation with the US.

“Our national security convergences have obviously grown in a more multi-polar world… A multi-polar world must have a multi-polar Asia as its basis,” said Mr Jaishankar.

“We are also committed to creating more trusted and resilient global supply chains. An India that is now focused on recovery, resilience and reform welcomes an expanded partnership with the United States.”

Defence Minister Singh noted that “upholding the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all states are essential”.

Experts say Beca will help India improve its defence preparedness and shows that the China factor remains a key driving force in expanding ties between the US and India.

“It makes sense politically, is strategically practical and is significant,” said Dr Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, distinguished fellow at New Delhi based Observer Research Foundation.

“India (through the dialogue amid the pandemic) wants to send messaging to partners and adversaries on where we place the US in the scheme of thing. We are converging on Covid and China, which is cementing ties between the two countries.”

Source: The Strait Times