By Prakash Chawla
Whether Donald Trump returns as the President or is replaced by his democratic challenger Joe Biden by the US voters on November 3, the India-US relations have matured into a solid partnership of mutual national interests. These interests were further served by a high profile visit of two of the most important secretaries (ministers) of the Trump Administration to India for the annual bilateral strategic reviews with the Indian ministers on October 26 and 27.
Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs) Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Mark Esper were in New Delhi for talks and signing of Defence-related agreement and the one for exchange of satellite data with Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar. These four ministers met for what has come to be known in the diplomatic parlance as 2+2 dialogue. This is the institutional arrangement irrespective of change of government in any of the two countries. The 2020 dialogue was the third in the series, and took place days before the US elections. For all you guess, Pompeo and Esper would be replaced by new secretaries to be appointed by Biden. That remains only a possibility, though a strong one!
After the conclusion of the dialogue, known as strategic dialogue, the two countries signed in all, five agreements. The underlying theme is the common perception of threat from China and its rising ambitions. The military and political adversary is common: China. Read the following observation by Pompeo during his New Delhi visit: “Our leaders and citizens see with increasing clarity that the Chinese Communist Party is no friend to democracy, rule of law, transparency… I’m glad to say India and US are taking all steps to strengthen cooperation against all threats and not just those posed by CCP.”
India’s External Affairs Minister too made it clear that this ”2+2 dialogue has a pol-mil agenda that underlines our close bilateral relationship. Our national security convergences have obviously grown in a more multi-polar world. We meet today to not only advance our own interests but to ensure that our bilateral cooperation makes a positive contribution in the world arena…”. Jaishankar was reminding China which is challenging India’s territorial integrity, to uphold a ”rule-based international order”. He said towards this end, ”it is particularly important to uphold a rules-based international order, the ability of India and the US to work closely in defense and foreign policy has a larger resonance. Together, we can make a real difference when it comes to regional and global challenges, whether it is in respecting territorial integrity, promoting maritime domain awareness, countering terrorism or ensuring prosperity”.
Both India and the US are busy re-energising common alliances on all fronts. Australia too has fallen out with China and Japan is the traditional Chinese adversary. These four make what is known as the QUAD combination for strategic military cooperation. The message is aimed at China. For the regular military exercise with a common friend, India has formalised a framework, which is known as the Malabar Exercise. India has invited Australia to join the Malabar Exercise 2020 which includes the US and Japan. The exercise would take place in November in the Bay of Bengal, sending a signal to the Chinese leadership of the QUAD alliance.