NEW DELHI/BEIJING/ISLAMABAD: A week before the US presidential election, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo signed a military agreement Tuesday before heading to Sri Lanka on a multicountry tour aimed at pushing the Trump administration’s anti-China message.
Pompeo was joined in New Delhi by US Defense Secretary Mark Esper. Together, they signed a pact with their Indian counterparts to share sensitive satellite data, often used to steer missiles and drones, reports the international media.
It’s the latest in a series of US-India military agreements designed to counter China’s growing power in the Indo-Pacific region. “Big things are happening as our democracies align to better protect the citizens of our two countries and indeed, of the free world,” Pompeo said at a news conference held outdoors amid the pandemic. Participants removed their masks only when speaking into their microphones.
Earlier, Pompeo and Esper met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. They discussed “COVID-19 response, security and defense cooperation, and shared interests in a free and open Indo-Pacific,” according to a statement from the US State Department.
Tuesday’s visit comes during a spike in tensions between India and China. The two countries share the world’s longest unmarked border, stretching more than 2,000 miles and with much of it high in the Himalayas.
Violence broke out between rival troops there this summer. In June, 20 Indian troops were killed in hand-to-hand combat with Chinese soldiers. Pompeo and Esper laid wreaths at a war memorial in New Delhi early Tuesday.
Military buglers played as Pompeo put his hand on his heart. Afterward, he said he was thinking of those 20 Indian troops killed this summer. And he railed against the Chinese Communist Party, or CCP.
“The CCP is no friend to democracy, the rule of law, transparency, nor to freedom of navigation — the foundation of a free and open and prosperous Indo-Pacific,” Pompeo said.
However, there was an awkward moment at Tuesday’s news conference when Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh was asked whether he’s willing to stop buying Russian weapons. For decades, the Soviet Union and later Russia were India’s biggest arms suppliers.
“Decisions happen on the basis of negotiations,” Singh demurred. “Whomever we buy from, or not buy from, depends on negotiations.” Despite Pompeo’s strong anti-China rhetoric, neither Singh nor Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar mentioned China by name at their joint news conference with the US officials.
But the timing of their summit hosting Pompeo and Esper was clear, amid tensions with China after summertime border skirmishes, says Tanvi Madan, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC.
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