The Trump administration must continue the transformation of US-India ties and help New Delhi strengthen its military especially in the Indian Ocean as China poses a major challenge to the American national security interest in the region, a US expert said today. The importance of strong US-India ties goes beyond merely abstract geopolitical balancing today and is in fact increasingly an operational imperative, Ashley Tellis from the Carnegie Endowment for International Relations told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee during a hearing.
“The Trump administration must continue the transformation of US-India relations undertaken by its two immediate predecessors because India is a vital element in the Asian balance of power and, along with Japan, remains one of the key bookends for managing the rise of China,” Tellis said in his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the Asia Pacific region.
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With the increasing Chinese naval presence in the Indian Ocean since at least 2008 and the likelihood of its acquiring “logistical facilities” in Djibouti and Gwader, Chinese naval operations — which are likely to be eventually supported by new anti-access and area denial capabilities based out of southwestern China and oriented toward aiding interdiction activities in the northern Indian Ocean — could one day interfere with US naval movements from the Persian Gulf or from Diego Garcia into the Pacific, he warned.
As such, closer US-Indian cooperation in regard to surveillance of Chinese naval actions in the Indian Ocean is highly desirable.
“Both Washington and New Delhi have now agreed to cooperate in tracking Chinese submarine operations in the area, and both nations should discuss the possibilities of enhanced mutual access for transitory rotations of maritime patrol aircraft.
“In general, US policy should move toward confirming a commitment to building up India’s military capabilities so as to enable it to independently defeat any coercive stratagems China may pursue along New Delhi’s landward and maritime frontiers, thereby easing the burdens on Washington’s ‘forward defence’ posture in other parts of the IndoPacific,” he said.
Tellis told lawmakers that most of America’s allies and friends in the region, including the smaller states of Southeast Asia, desire to protect their own strategic autonomy vis-a-vis China.
They often lack the critical military capabilities necessary to produce that outcome independently; however, they are open to working with the US to balance the rise of Chinese power so long as Washington is seen to be consistently engaged and temperate in its policies, he said.
“The stronger regional states, such as Japan and India, will in fact balance China independently of the US,” Tellis added.