India, US to work together to boost maritime security

Aim to ensure freedom of navigation; investment initiative also announced

This article was first published on Oct 2, 2014

India and the United States have agreed to step up cooperation in maritime security to ensure freedom of navigation, at a time when China has shown its willingness to exert naval pressure over its territorial claims in the East and South China seas.

Over two days of talks, US President Barack Obama and new Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also pledged to expand economic cooperation through a new Indo-US Investment Initiative.

The US has largely seen its relationship with India as crucial to Mr Obama's rebalance to Asia, with India acting as a potential counterweight to China.

These agreements emerged after wide-ranging meetings between the two leaders that covered issues from innovation and technology to combating climate change, Ebola and terrorism.

A joint statement released after the leaders met on Tuesday said they agreed "to intensify cooperation in maritime security to ensure freedom of navigation and unimpeded movement of lawful shipping and commercial activity, in accordance with accepted principles of international law".

India and China have a long- running land border dispute and India's military has recently been monitoring Chinese activity in the Indian Ocean.

The two leaders also said they would consider enhancing technology partnerships for India's navy.

While no major breakthroughs emerged on some of the pricklier topics like the civil nuclear pact, the implementation of which has stalled since 2010, this first bilateral meeting between Mr Obama and Mr Modi seems to have turned the tide on ties that have been affected by a string of diplomatic spats in recent years.

Said Mr Modi on Tuesday after their bilateral meeting: "This visit, especially my conversation with President Obama, has reinforced my conviction that India and the United States are natural global partners based on our shared values, interests and strengths in the digital age."

Mr Obama added that it is critical for the two countries to "continue to deepen and broaden the existing framework of partnership and friendship".

The two sides will establish the Indo-US Investment Initiative to raise investment by institutional investors and corporate entities.

With two-way trade having grown fivefold since 2001 to nearly US$100 billion (S$128 billion), the leaders are committed to increasing it by another fivefold, though no timeframe was given.

They also discussed their concerns over the current impasse at the World Trade Organisation (WTO). India failed to meet the July 31 deadline for adopting the WTO's trade facilitation pact, claiming insufficient progress on food security measures.

Said Mr Modi: "India supports trade facilitation. However, I also expect that we are able to find a solution that takes care of our concern on food security... It should be possible to do that soon."