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The United States will support India to defend its territorial sovereignty and liberty, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said on Tuesday. Addressing the media at the end of the 3rd India-US 2+2 dialogue in New Delhi, Mr. Pompeo also said that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is “no friend to democracy”. 

The observations about the threats to Indian sovereignty came as New Delhi announced the signing of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement on geospatial cooperation (BECA) with the U.S.

“The United States will stand with the people of India as they face threats to their sovereignty and their liberty,” said Mr. Pompeo hinting at the ongoing tense scenario in eastern Ladakh where Indian and Chinese forces in a standoff since May. Mr. Pompeo also referred to the greater threats posed by China in the Asia-Pacific region and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Our leaders and our citizens see with increasing clarity that 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. I am glad to say that the U.S. and India are taking steps to strengthen cooperation against all manner of threats and not just those posed by the Chinese Communist Party,” said Mr Pompeo addressing the media at the Hyderabad House here. 

In his opening remarks, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh laid out the challenges before India. Speaking in Hindi, Mr Singh said, “We are meeting today at an extraordinary time. This pandemic is something that we have never experienced in our lifetime.. ..our partnership is becoming stronger because of the challenges that we are facing at present.” The Minister’s comments were taken forward by Mr Pompeo, promising American support.

U.S. Secretary of Defence Mark Esper said, “BECA will enable greater sharing of geospatial information between our armed forces”.

Apart from BECA, India and the U.S. also sealed an MoU on Technical Cooperation in Earth Observations and Earth Sciences, and an agreement to extend duration of the MoU regarding the Global Center for Nuclear Energy Partnership. The two sides also signed an agreement on electronic exchange of customs data and a letter of intent regarding cooperation in traditional Indian medicines. 

A Joint Statement issued following the conclusion of the visit of the American dignitaries highlighted shared Indo-U.S. goals in the Asia-Pacific region and “emphasised that the Code of Conduct in the South China sea should not prejudice the legitimate rights and interests of any nation in accordance with international law”. The two sides also decided to expand joint capacity building activities with partner countries in the Indo-Pacific region. 

Mr. Pompeo also referred to the loss of lives of Indian soldiers in the clash with the Chinese PLA troops in June and said India and the U.S. are committed to upholding common values against threats. 

“Today morning we have been to the National War Memorial to pay homage to the brave men and women of the Indian armed forces who have sacrificed for the world’s largest democracy including 20 that were killed by the PLA forces in Galwan valley in June,” Mr Pompeo said. 

Chinese rejection

Responding to the comments of the U.S. Secretary of State, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said Mr. Pompeo’s comments are groundless.

“These are groundless accusations which reflect he is clinging to Cold War mentality and ideological biases. We urge him to abandon the Cold War and zero sum game mentality, stop sowing discord between China and regional countries as well as undermining regional peace and stability,” said Mr. Wang. 

‘Security convergence’

Explaining the “2+2” dialogue, External Affairs Minister Dr. S Jaishankar said the discussions had a political military content. “Our national security convergences have obviously grown in a more multipolar 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,” he said. 

Speaking about the conclusion of BECA ahead of the U.S. presidential election, a highly placed government source said that the presence of the U.S. Secretaries of State and Defence in India despite the election season in the U.S. is a sign of the importance that the U.S. attaches to India.

“It is a demonstration to the world at large,” said the official about the discussions between the two sides. Apart from Indo-Pacific region, the two sides also discussed the status of Afghanistan and supported an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process. 

Information exchange

BECA enables exchange of geospatial data and information between the two countries and will improve the accuracy of India’s missiles in future during precision strikes. 

BECA will help share geospatial maps and charts between U.S. and India, which may have been acquired from multiple sources like satellites, UAVs, reconnaissance aircraft, aerostats among others, said Captain (IN) Vikram Mahajan (Retd), Director, Aerospace and Defence at U.S.-India Strategic Partnership Forum. 

“Data shared from BECA will help in identifying, updating and tracking of various types of target and their position, both on land and sea,” he told The Hindu

Terming the signing of BECA a “significant achievement,” Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said the U.S. accepted an Indian request for “cooperation in the advanced field of maritime domain awareness.” As part of measures to enhance military to military cooperation Mr. Singh said now Liaison Officers at each other’s establishments could be leveraged to enhance “information sharing architecture” while in the joint statement both sides “reiterated their intent to assign additional Liaison Officers.”