India and the US 'vision' for Asia Pacific and Indian Ocean seen as 'counter' to China

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (right) in 'One on One' talks while having tea with US President Barack Obama (left) in the gardens of Hyderabad House, in New Delhi on Sunday as seen in a handout image provided by the Press Information Bureau of
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (right) in 'One on One' talks while having tea with US President Barack Obama (left) in the gardens of Hyderabad House, in New Delhi on Sunday as seen in a handout image provided by the Press Information Bureau of the Government of India. -- PHOTO: EPA

NEW DELHI - India and the US have announced during US President Barack Obama's visit here a closer partnership covering a wide sphere of influence that would extend from Africa to the far reaches of East Asia.

A US India Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia Pacific and Indian Ocean Region released on Sunday noted that "a closer partnership between the United States and India is indispensable to promoting peace, prosperity and stability" in the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean regions.

"From Africa to East Asia, we will build on our partnership to support sustainable, inclusive development, and increased regional connectivity by collaborating with other interested partners to address poverty and support broad-based prosperity," said the document that is sure to get China's attention.

The vision document was released after talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Mr Obama on Sunday. 

Mr Obama is on a three-day visit to India to deepen ties between the world's two largest democracies and in what many see as a move to implement his "pivot to Asia" policy. Mr Modi too has been pushing an Act East policy which basically promotes ties with countries to the east of India, particularly in South East Asia.

Ties between India and the US have been warming since Mr Modi came to power in May last year. In fact, his successful visit to the US last September is seen to have re-energised ties. Even though irritants remain, such as over climate change, there is a fresh intent to tackle issues, said Indian officials.

Mr Obama too referred to increased US India cooperation in the Asia Pacific region in a joint press interaction with Mr Modi after bilateral talks.

"We've also agreed to a new vision for the Asia Pacific so that we are doing more together to advance our shared security and prosperity in this critical region," said Mr Obama.

Analysts said that the vision document and the comments showed that Indian and American interests were converging in the region.

"It (the vision document) is unusual. But I think what they are trying to show is a convergence of strategic vision about where this part of the world should be going," said former Indian foreign secretary Salman Haidar. "It would be a gesture rather than an action programme."

The document further said the two countries would look at promoting infrastructure connectivity among others to South Asia, Southeast and Central Asia.

It also referred to competing claims in the South China Sea involving China and a host of other countries including the Philippines and Vietnam and said all those involved should "avoid the threat or use of force and pursue resolution of territorial and maritime disputes through all peaceful means.

"There is complementarity of interest. That is why the US and India are increasingly expanding joint exercises and scope of these exercises in Indian Ocean,'" said Mr Naresh Chandra, former bureaucrat who served as India's ambassador to the US.

He added: "At the same time I don't think India has done anything that can cause concern to China ..its a kind of reaffirmation."

But others felt that the US aims were clear. .

"The US is clear what it wants from India. It would like India to balance and act as a counter to China in the region," said Prof B R Deepak, Professor of Chinese and China Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

"It want bipolarity in Asia. That is pretty clear. And for India it is about forging strategic alliance with US. Primarily India would like to build a defence industry."