New Delhi: Branding defence cooperation between India and the US as “one of the all-important defence relationships of the 21st century”, US Defence Secretary Mark Esper Tuesday said the Donald Trump administration is closely monitoring the India-China tensions in Ladakh.
Washington, Esper said, is pleased to see New Delhi and Beijing trying to de-escalate tensions in the Himalayas. But at the same time, he slammed China, saying the Chinese Communist Party “continues to engage in systemic rule-breaking” even as the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) “continues its aggressive behaviour” in the East and South China Sea.
“We are monitoring it (the LAC situation) very closely and what’s happening along the Line of Actual Control, and we are very pleased to see that both sides are trying to de-escalate the situation,” Esper said, addressing a special presentation of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a London-based research body, on the US vision for security in the Indo-Pacific region.
During his address, which was moderated by IISS Director General and Chief Executive John Chipman, Esper also weighed in on the growing defence relationship between New Delhi and Washington.
The US declared India a ‘Major Defence Partner’ in 2016, which enabled New Delhi to access and procure high-tech and sensitive American defence technologies, something that is granted only to its closest allies.
“We also continue to grow our defence sales and look forward to a robust 2+2 ministerial dialogue to build on this progress,” Esper said, referring to the annual summit between the two countries’ foreign and defence ministers that was launched in 2018. The previous edition of the 2+2 dialogue — during which the ministers discuss strategic and security interests of both nations — was held in December last year in Washington DC.
The joint two-day India-US Naval exercise PASSEX that began Monday, he said, is another sign of the strong India-US partnership.
The exercise, which took place off the Andaman & Nicobar Islands, involved Indian warships and the USS Nimitz.
“We conducted our first-ever joint military exercise last November and, as we speak today, the USS Nimitz is conducting combined exercises with the Indian Navy in the Indian Ocean demonstrating our shared committed to a stronger naval cooperation in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific,” he said.
He lashed out at the Chinese Communist Party, which he said “continues to engage in systemic rule-breaking”.
“We are not in search of conflict. We are committed to a constructive and results-oriented relationship with China, and, within our defense relationship, to open lines of communication and risk reduction,” he said.
‘US transforming the way it fights’
Esper’s address also dwelt on how the US is “transforming the way” it fights by modernising its “force, and strengthening deterrence, prioritising development and deployment of game-changing technologies, such as hypersonic weapons, 5G, and artificial intelligence”.
“We are developing a new Joint Warfighting Concept and … Doctrine for the 21st century, and implementing novel concepts to become more nimble, less predictable, and able to rapidly shift to combat operations if needed,” he said.
Esper He said the US has urged all Indo-Pacific nations to “expand their own intra-regional security relationships and networks of like-minded partners”.