US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Mark T Esper arrived in India today for the third edition of the 2+2 ministerial dialogue. These talks are aimed at strengthening strategic ties in the face of growing Chinese influence across the region.
Pompeo and Esper will hold top-level 2+2 talks with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Tuesday, covering the entire expanse of defence and security ties as well as key regional and global issues.
The two-day visit coincides with India’s engagement in a bitter border standoff with China. Pompeo had indicated earlier that the dialogue is expected to focus on the “threats” from the communist country.
The trip of Pompeo and Esper is part of the latest US effort to bolster allies against an increasingly assertive China, which has been making political and military inroads across Asia, analysts say.
Pompeo is due to travel also to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, two Indian Ocean countries where China has financed and built various infrastructure, to the alarm of India and the United States. In fact, China took over the control of the Hambantota port completely in 2018 after Sri Lanka failed to repay the lender at the high rate of interest demanded,
Pompeo and Esper are scheduled to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval.
In the last few months, the US has been ramping up attacks on China over a range of contentious issues including the border standoff with India, its military assertiveness in the South China Sea, the way Beijing handled the anti-government protests in Hong Kong and mishandling or deliberate unleashing of coronavirus on the world.
Meanwhile, India has sought US cold weather equipment as the LAC showdown goes into the freezing Himalayan winter and officials said this could be raised during the talks.
The two sides, sources said, will finalise the long-pending BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement) agreement to further boost bilateral defence ties. The BECA will provide for sharing of high-end military technology, logistics and geospatial maps between the two countries.
While the India-US relations have been scaling new heights since the Atal Bihari Vajpayee years (1998-2004), the defence ties between the two countries have been on an upswing in the last few years.
In June 2016, the US had designated India a “Major Defence Partner” intending to elevate defence trade and technology sharing to a level commensurate with that of its closest allies and partners.
The two countries inked the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in 2016 that allows their militaries use each other’s bases for repair and replenishment of supplies as well as provide for deeper cooperation.
The two countries signed another pact called COMCASA (Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement) in 2018 that provides for interoperability between the two militaries and provides for sale of high end technology from the US to India.
According to the US government, India maintains the largest fleet of C-17 and P-8 aircraft outside of the US, and as of 2020, Washington has authorised more than $20 billion in defence sales to India
The first edition of the 2+2 dialogue was held in Delhi in September 2018 after the mechanism was approved by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump.
The second edition of the dialogue took place in Washington in December last year.
The new framework of the minister-secretary dialogue was initiated in order to provide a forward-looking vision for the strategic partnership between the two countries.