NEW DELHI: The United States will work closely with India in the Indian Ocean region to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific and to enhance Indian capabilities to project force in the face of increased Chinese Navy activity. a senior US government official said Wednesday.
The activities of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in areas from the Line of Effective Control (LAC) to the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean fit into a pattern of behavior aimed at undermining rules-based order and trying to change the status quo through coercion, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
At the same time, the United States is working to help India modernize its military and support the country’s defense indigenization program as part of US plans to help Indian armies to move away from reliance on Russian-sourced equipment and platforms, the official said. These efforts will also lead to greater integration of the defense industries of the two parties.
Although India’s response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine was at odds with the reaction of the other members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad – Australia, Japan and the United States – the official made it clear that this would not become a “significant obstacle”. cooperation within the group.
“The operating environment in the Indian Ocean region is changing, in part due to increased PLA activity. This is an area where we are interested in supporting capabilities and capabilities of India to project forces as well as to deepen our own bilateral cooperation, operationally and in the area of information sharing,” the official said.
“When I look at what the PLA is doing in the Indian Ocean, what they’re doing at the LAC, I see that as part of a pattern of behavior related to what’s happening in the South China Sea, the Taiwan Strait, the East China Sea – that is, you have a country that has both the intent and the ability to undermine the rules-based order and try to change the status. quo by coercion,” he added.
The United States is also concerned about the PLA’s installations in third countries and its “ability to use economic and military tools for coercive purposes against countries in the region”. The secret security pact recently signed by China and the Solomon Islands is “part of a pattern of behavior” and it is very clear that the PLA “seeks overseas facilities wherever it can get them, and that includes South Asia,” the official said.
The official described ties with India as “one of the most important bilateral relationships in the world” and one of the “most important” to the Biden administration, and said the US side is very focused on helping India to modernize its army and supporting India. the indigenization of the defense industry.
India’s indigenization program is part of abandoning Russian equipment, a “trend already underway”, and the United States “will seek opportunities to support this program”, the official stressed .
India has faced increasing pressure from the United States on its relations with Russia in the wake of the Ukraine crisis. US Undersecretary for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland, during a visit to New Delhi in March, hinted at the provision of Soviet-era equipment and spare parts to wean India off military hardware Russian.
When specifically asked if differences over the Ukraine crisis would affect the functioning of the Quad, the US official replied, “I don’t think that will pose a significant impediment to cooperation within the Quad. We recognize that India has a long and complicated relationship with Russia.
“We also have an extremely broad relationship with India which we are working on on a number of issues at all levels. Of course, we are not going to agree on every issue, but we are in close communication on these issues. »
The official further said that “no decision” has been made by the United States on whether to impose secondary sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) regarding the deal. of $5.4 billion concluded by India to acquire S-400 air defense systems from Russia.
The recent 2+2 meeting of Defense and Foreign Ministers of India and the United States has given impetus to efforts to expand defense relations and work on the co-development and joint production of technologies and military platforms. The cooperation will also be extended to new areas such as artificial intelligence, cyber, space and underwater domain awareness.
Projects will be accelerated under the Defense Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), and there has been a ‘very strong signal’ from leaders on both sides to ensure progress, including bureaucratic constraints holding back transfer of technology. The US Office of Naval Research is exploring opportunities to position experts and engineers in India to work with their counterparts on co-development and co-production, the official said.