India and the United States have agreed to strengthen their cooperation on maritime security, as concerns grow in Washington over Beijing’s growing military ambitions.
US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter is in India to bolster a strategic relationship Washington considers crucial in the face of what it sees as China’s raising assertiveness, particularly in the South China Sea.
“Both sides agreed to strengthen cooperation in the area of maritime security,” said a joint statement issued on Tuesday after Carter held talks with Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar.
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,” read 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.
Carter also held talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi later as part of his 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 also in the past criticised what he called China’s “expansionist mindset”.
After his meeting with Parrikar, Carter said 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.
India, the world’s biggest arms importer, wants access to US technology so it can develop sophisticated weapons at home – a key part of Modi’s “Make in India” campaign to boost domestic manufacturing.
New Delhi has historically relied heavily on Russia for arms imports, but is now seeking US help to develop its own new-generation aircraft carriers.
The US is also hoping to sell its F-16 or F-18 fighter jets to India as part of a major coproduction deal involving more than 100 planes that would be partly manufactured in India.