U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo embarks on a week-long trip to South Asia - South Asia Time

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo embarks on a week-long trip to South Asia

 October 22, 2020  

London —Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper are set to visit New Delhi next week, part of an effort to cement U.S. strategic and military ties with India in their mutual rivalry with China.

Besides India, Mr. Pompeo will also visit Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Indonesia, he told reporters Wednesday at the State Department, Wall Street Journal writes.

In New Delhi on Monday and Tuesday, Messrs. Pompeo and Esper are set to meet their Indian counterparts, part of a “2+2” dialogue expected to cover everything from military exercises to diplomatic efforts around Asia.

“The agenda for the third Dialogue will cover all bilateral, regional and global issues of mutual interest,” the Indian foreign ministry said Wednesday.

“On every stop I will discuss a broad range of bilateral topics, but also work to find out with each of those countries the best ways that we can make sure that we cooperate to preserve a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Pompeo told reporters Wednesday during a press briefing at the State Department.

He added his meetings will “also include discussions on how free nations can work together to thwart threats posed by the Chinese Communist Party.”

In India, Pompeo and U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper will join their counterparts for the third annual U.S.-India 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue. The State Department says the talks will be aimed at advancing the U.S.-India strategic partnership and expand security cooperation.

The two nations are also set to lay the groundwork for the signing of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geospatial Cooperation or BECA, which is seen as the final strategic agreement leading to closer security ties.

BECA “can be viewed as the last piece for the puzzle of mutual strategic cooperation that New Delhi and Washington have worked on together for the past five years,” said Roger Liu, an associate professor of political science at FLAME University in Pune, India.

The talks between top U.S. and Indian officials come at a time of increased tensions between India and China. In addition to widespread anger related to the coronavirus, which originated in China, there are also increasing concerns about China’s more aggressive approach in the Himalayan border dispute. Recent clashes have killed at least 20 Indian soldiers along with an undisclosed number of Chinese, VOA writes.

“After BECA is signed in the third US-India 2+2 meeting at the end of October, the Indian armed forces will have access to the U.S. satellite image and sensory data—the signal intelligence, or SIGINT—during the time of conflict,” said Liu on Wednesday. “The interoperability between the U.S. and Indian armed forces thus is further enhanced.”

India has maintained a non-alignment stance for years. But senior U.S. officials have seen “a steady progression of cooperation” that reached “a new level in recent months and years.”

Tuesday, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Steve Biegun told reporters in during a phone briefing that U.S.-India relations have “never been better” since the early 1990s, when the two counties “really began opening up to each other.”

Also on Tuesday, Esper said meetings with senior Indian officials would reflect the need for “a lot more close collaboration” on challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, where China is building its presence.

“Together these efforts will strengthen what may become one of the most consequential partnerships of the 21st century,” said Esper in his remarks to the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank.

Washington and New Delhi are also expanding their defense trade cooperation. India is increasing its defense equipment purchases from the U.S., from nearly zero in 2008 to a sharp growth of over $20 billion by the end of 2020.