By Amit Agnihotri
New Delhi: As India firmly deals with an expansionist China on its own, the South Asian country reviewed its global strategic partnership with the United States amid positive noises coming from the world’s most powerful democracy.
India’s Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla and the US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale held the virtual Foreign Office Consultations, where they reviewed the entire gamut of engagements under the India-US Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership, including political, economic, commercial, regional and international cooperation.
Hours before that meeting, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows expressed solidarity with India over the ongoing Ladakh border dispute with China.
India and China have been locked in a bitter turf war since May when China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) brazenly violated peace along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in areas like Galwan Valley, Pangong Tso and the Gogra-Hot Springs, throwing all international norms and bilateral pacts out of the window.
India’s attempts to stop the PLA at Galwan Valley on June 15 led to bloody clashes in which 20 Indian soldiers lost their lives and over 40 PLA troops too suffered casualty, though China admitted to casualties on its side but is yet to reveal the numbers.
Since yesterday, India is watching China’s seriousness in implementing a de-escalation and disengagement plan that was worked out between the two militaries in the eastern parts of Ladakh, where the two armies are still positioned against each other along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
That disengagement process is expected to hasten following the talks between Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on July 5.
“The message is clear. We’re not going to stand by and let China or anyone else take the reins in terms of being the most powerful, dominant force, whether it’s in that region or over here,” Meadows told Fox News today.
“And the message is clear. Our military might stand strong and will continue to stand strong, whether it’s in relationship to a conflict between India and China or anywhere else,” Meadows said.
According to a statement from India’s external affairs ministry, Shringla and Hale exchanged views on a number of global issues of shared interest and reaffirmed their commitment to work towards ensuring a free, open, inclusive, peaceful and prosperous Indo-Pacific.
India and the US also agreed on the need to deepen their cooperation in the United Nations, especially during India’s membership of the UN Security Council for the period 2021-2022.
As India grapples the China military problem in Ladakh, these positive sound bytes from Narendra Modi government and the Donald J. Trump administration amplify the two nations’ commitment to stay together, as the US Navy deploys two nuclear-powered aircraft carriers — USS Ronald Regan and USS Nimitz — to the strategically important South China Sea, where China’s aggression has caused concern to the US and other nations in the Indo-Pacific region.
The pro-India voices emerging from the US establishment deserve to be analysed in the wake of the recent remarks made by the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo regarding the US troop redeployment from Germany to deal with renewed Chinese aggression in Ladakh as well as the South China Sea.
Last month, the US President had announced that his administration would be cutting down on its troop strength in Germany, and deploying them elsewhere.
Explaining his remark, made to the Brussels Forum, Pompeo had said: “We are going to make sure the US military is postured appropriately to meet the challenges.”
The actions of the ruling Chinese Communist Party meant there were “threats to India, threats to Vietnam, threats to Malaysia, Indonesia and the South China Sea,” he said.
While such statements may be mere posturing by the US, which is wary of China’s superpower dreams and sees India as a counter-balancing force in Asia, they at least reflect the views of the western world and are an add-on to the optics of across-the-world support to India’s position on the military conflict with China.
A broad convergence among the US and Indian security establishments reached over the past decades was also reflected in Pompeo’s remarks made yesterday, welcoming India banning 59 Chinese apps over threats to national security and hinting that the US too was contemplating a similar move.
“I don’t want to get out in front of the (US) President (Trump), but it’s something we’re looking at,” Pompeo told Fox News.
In another move aimed at pricking China, the US thanked India for hosting Tibetan supreme spiritual leader the Dalai Lama since 1959.
“Happy 85th birthday to His Holiness @DalaiLama, who has inspired the world through his peace & kindness, and as a symbol of the struggle for Tibetans and their heritage. We thank India for hosting His Holiness and Tibetans in freedom since 1959 & wish His Holiness happiness,” the US state department’s South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA) Bureau tweeted yesterday.
The Dalai Lama has been living in India ever since he fled Tibet in 1959, following a Chinese crackdown on an uprising by the local population. The Tibetan government-in-exile is headquartered in Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh and over 160,000 Tibetans live in India.
Tibet used to be a huge security buffer between China and India but was annexed forcibly by the Asian giant. Several experts have been suggesting India should openly follow the ‘One Tibet‘ policy and junk the ‘One China‘ policy to counter the Asian giant’s expansionism.
For good measure, key US ally Japan too has backed India during its ongoing border face-off with China. Ambassador of Japan to India Satoshi Suzuki, who was briefed by Harsh Vardhan Shringla on July 3 over the situation along the LAC, tweeted: “Had a good talk with FS Shringla. Appreciated his briefing on the situation along LAC, including GOI’s policy to pursue peaceful resolution. Japan also hopes for peaceful resolution through dialogues. Japan opposes any unilateral attempts to change the status quo.”
The remark came days after the Indian Navy and the Japanese Marine Self-Defense Force concluded a goodwill training maritime exercise in the Indian Ocean on June 27.
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