India, US seek closer ties amid rise of China

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the latter's residence in New Delhi yesterday. Mr Modi's office said both of them discussed "stepping up effective cooperation to combat terrorism in all its forms, and pr
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the latter's residence in New Delhi yesterday. Mr Modi's office said both of them discussed "stepping up effective cooperation to combat terrorism in all its forms, and promoting regional stability and security".PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

US backs India's rise as a leading power, and will boost its military capabilities: Tillerson

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said yesterday that the United States supported India's emergence as a leading power, and offered advanced technology to boost its military capabilities amid mutual concerns about regional security.

Mr Tillerson, who ended a five-nation tour in India yesterday, met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and held talks with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.

"The US supports India's emergence as a leading power and will continue to contribute to Indian capabilities to provide security throughout the region. In this regard, we are able and willing to provide advanced technologies for its military modernisation efforts," said Mr Tillerson at a joint press briefing with Ms Swaraj.

He also spoke about the growing cooperation between India, Japan and the US and its importance in the Indo-Pacific region.

The three countries currently hold joint naval exercises and are looking to expand cooperation to include infrastructure projects .

"We also look forward to further cooperation... as we both promote a rules-based approach to commerce and a transparent and sustainable approach to economic development. We are glad to be joined in this effort by our close mutual partner Japan," he added.

India and the US have also been drawing closer to counter the growing influence of China. India has a longstanding border row with China while the US has been alarmed by Beijing's assertiveness in Asia, including in territorial disputes over the South China Sea.

BALANCE OF POWER

There is recognition on both sides... that the Asian century should not be dominated by one power, essentially China.

DR RAJESHWARI PILLAI RAJAGOPALAN,a senior fellow at Delhi-based think-tank Observer Research Foundation.

Dr Rajeshwari Pillai Rajagopalan, a senior fellow at Delhi-based think-tank Observer Research Foundation, said: "There is recognition on both sides... that the Asian century should not be dominated by one power, essentially China."

Economic ties between India and the US have strengthened over the last decade, with trade between the two countries growing to US$115 billion (S$156.5 billion) last year.

Mr Tillerson's visit also comes after two recent announcements by the Trump administration on South Asia. Last week, Mr Tillerson described how the Indo-Pacific region needed a strong US -India partnership, while criticising China for undermining the "international, rules-based order". Before that, US President Donald Trump announced that the US would remain in Afghanistan and asked India, which had already spent US$3 billion in the reconstruction effort, to do more to help stabilise Afghanistan.

Indian strategic affairs expert C. Uday Bhaskar said it was important for India "to get orientation of the direction of bilateral ties", after these two major announcements.

According to a press statement from Mr Modi's office, the Prime Minister and Mr Tillerson discussed "stepping up effective cooperation to combat terrorism in all its forms, and promoting regional stability and security".

The two sides also discussed other areas of concern, including India's diplomatic ties with North Korea. The US has been mounting international pressure to isolate North Korea over its nuclear and missile programme.

Ms Swaraj noted that India still maintains an embassy in Pyongyang. "Our embassy size is small. I told Secretary Tillerson that some of their friendly countries should maintain embassies there so that some channels of communication are kept open," she said.

India has banned trade of most goods with North Korea, except in food and medicine. Trade was minimal, said Ms Swaraj.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 26, 2017, with the headline 'India, US seek closer ties amid rise of China'. Print Edition | Subscribe