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This article was first published 3 years ago  » News » Why is Blinken Rushing to Delhi?

Why is Blinken Rushing to Delhi?

July 26, 2021 09:05 IST
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The elephant in the room will permeate the conversations, predicts Rup Narayan Das.

IMAGE: United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken will be the second high level official of the Biden administration to visit India after US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.
Blinken, who will be in Delhi on July 26-27, will meet External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and call on Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi. Photographs: Elizabeth Frantz/Pool/Reuters

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken's visit to India should be seen against the backdrop of frosty India-China relations with tension on the India-China border showing no signs of complete disengagement and de-escalation.

Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to the Tibet Autonomous Region near the India-China border last week has exacerbated the security dilemma prevailing between the two countries.

Although it is stated that India and the US will discuss bilateral issues like COVID-19 response efforts, the Afghan imbroglio in the light of the US withdrawal and the preparation for the Quad summit slated for later this year, the elephant in the room will permeate the conversations.

Security and defence cooperation between India and the US has been increasing by leaps and bounds.

China's belligerence in the COVID-19 period has brought a fresh impetus between the two democracies including in the sphere of defence and security co-operation.

IMAGE: Then US defense secretary Dr Ashton Carter, left, with then defence minister Manohar Parrikar, right, as Rear Admiral Jesse A Wilson, second from left, stands nearby, on the USS Eisenhower, off the coast of Virginia in the Atlantic Ocean, December 10, 2015. Photograph: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Then US defence secretary Ashton Carter was instrumental in giving a boost to the Defence Trade Technology Initiative launched in 2012.

A landmark development in the transformational defence and security cooperation between the two countries was the signing of the new Framework Agreement for the India-US defence relationship in June 2015.

Taking it to greater heights, India amd the US signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in August 2016.

The US initiative to engage India as a major defence partner is aimed at fostering greater cooperation in the defence industry.

After twelve years of protracted parleys. India and the US agreed on LEMOA. This is a tweaked version of the standard logistics cooperation agreement that the US military has with dozens of counties.

The agreement enables the naval ships and aircraft of both the countries to dock in each other's bases for refuelling and similar other purposes.

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi flanked by then US secretary of state Michael R Pompeo, left, and then US secretary of defense General James Mattis, right, in New Delhi after the 2+2 dialogue, September 6, 2018. Photograph: Press Information Bureau

The renaming of the US Pacific Command as the Indo-Pacific Command on June 1, 2018 was yet another strategic gesture by the US to co-opt India in the Asia-Pacific against the backdrop of China's belligerent behaviour.

In September 2018, the India-US defence relationship received a major boost at the first 2+2 Dialogue in New Delhi, where the 'foundational' Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) was signed between the two countries.

COMCASA enables the Indian military to get a better picture of the Indian Ocean region which is seeing increasing Chinese activity.

The second round of 2+2 ministerial dialogue took place in Washington on December 19, 2019. During the meeting the two sides announced important progress under the DTTI including the finalisation of the Statement of Intent to co-develop several projects and welcomed the finalisation of the Standard Operating Procedure for setting forth implementation guidelines for projects under DTTI and the Industry-to-Industry Framework.

The two sides also welcomed the signing of the Industrial Security Annex (INA) which will facilitate the exchange of classified military information between the two sides.

The third edition of the 2+2 ministerial dialogue took place on October 27 last year in New Delhi amidst the standoff on the India-China border. The major high light of the outcome was the signing of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA).

The two sides welcomed enhanced maritime information sharing and maritime domain awareness between their navies and affirmed their commitment to build upon existing defence information sharing at the joint service and service-to-service levels and explore potential new areas of mutually beneficial cooperation.

IMAGE: Then US president Donald J Trump and Prime Minister Modi after a news conference at Hyderabad House, February 25, 2020. Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters

The two countries entered into a contract in December 2016 to procure 145 US made M77 ultra-light howitzers. It was agreed that the first 25 howitzers would be given off the shelf, while the remaining 120 would be assembled in India.

Defence cooperation between India and the US received further impetus during then president Donald J Trump's visit to India in February 2020. During the visit, the India-US relationship was elevated to a 'Global Comprehensive Strategic Partnership' and Modi hailed it as one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century.

The reference to the elephant in the room was evident when Trump in his address contrasted India's democracy with "'a nation that seeks to power through coercion, intimidation and aggression.'

Trump announced a defence deal of more than $3 billion under which India will buy US military equipment including MH-60R naval and AH64E Apache helicopters. As China's presence in the Indian Ocean is on the rise, these helicopters will help strengthen the Indian Navy, which lacks the helicopters of similar capability.

It is significant that after the outbreak of COVID-19, in April 2020, the Trump administration notified the United States Congress its determination to sell Harpoon air launched missiles and lightweight torpedoes worth $155 million to India.

IMAGE: Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, second from left, speaks while a monitor displays US President Joe Biden, Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Prime Minister Modi during the virtual Quadrilateral Security Dialogue meeting, March 12, 2021. Photograph: Kiyoshi Ota/Pool/Reuters

After Joe Biden's assumption of the US presidency in January, there were some uncertainties with regard to the continuance of the strong strategic partnership between India and the US. But soon the leadership in both countries reached out to each other, dispelling doubts.

Prime Minister Modi had a telephonic conversations with President Biden in April in the wake of India's devastation after the second wave of the pandemic. The two leaders also met earlier -- virtually -- at the first-ever Quad summit on March 12 along with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshide Suga and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

The thrust of the summit was a reiteration of the imperatives of an 'open' and 'free' Indo-Pacific -- a euphemism for China's belligerence -- besides cooperation to fight the pandemic.

What prompted the alacrity of the Quad summit to Biden readily agreed within fifty days of assuming the presidency was China's assertive behaviour in Hong Kong, Taiwan and on the India-China border. It also suggests America's continued commitment under Biden's presidency to India and the challenge that it faces from China.

IMAGE: The Indian Navy's MH-60 Romeo multi-role helicopters, sourced from Lockheed Martin in the United States. Photographs: ANI Photo

The defence cooperation between the two countries also continued under Biden Presidency.

The US state department in May 2021 approved the sale of P-81 patrol aircraft and related equipment. In November 2019, the defence ministry's Defence Acquisition Council approved the procurement of the long range maritime surveillance aircraft manufactured by Boeing.

Earlier this month, the US handed over the first two MH-60R multi-role helicopters to the Indian Navy to face security threats and strengthen homeland security.

Dr Rup Narayan Das is a China scholar and currently a senior fellow at the Indian Council of Social Science Research at the Indian Institute of Public Administration, New Delhi. The views in this column are personal.

Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/

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