NEW DELHI: India and the US on Tuesday signed five pacts, including the long-negotiated Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) on geospatial data during the 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue at a time when New Delhi and Beijing are engaged in a stand-off along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh.
BECA will give India access to accurate US satellite data, which will help in navigation and pinpoint accuracy for weapons.
“We are happy that we’ve completed the BECA, which will open new avenues in the information sharing. We are eager to discuss further issues with US,” Singh said after the meeting. Experts say BECA will usher in a new era in ties, especially in defence cooperation. “India-US are looking at geo-spatial intelligence and greater cooperation in all fields. Further, a fair amount of congruence has been achieved in terms of the idea of an inclusive Indo-Pacific. The wider Indo-Pacific sweep includes freedom of navigation, use of global commons and the sea lanes of communication,” Major General (Retd) S B Asthana said.
Kriti Upadhyaya of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies said that signing of BECA in the backdrop of the India-China tensions definitely sends a message to China that the US stands by India in improving its defences against China.
Discussions in the meeting involving US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Defence Mark Esper, External Affairs Minister S Jaishnakar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh focused around a plethora of regional and global issues, including coronavirus, trade, free and fair Indo-Pacific and enhancing bilateral ties.
Earlier in the day, Pompeo and Esper paid tributes at the National War Memorial and had a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval.
“Warm conversation today with Indian Prime Minister @narendramodi. Our close relationship, which is rooted in our vibrant democratic traditions and fostered by the free and open exchange between our peoples, is beneficial for the world,” Pompeo later tweeted.
‘Closer cooperation to promote prosperity in the Indo-Pacific’
In discussions revolving around the Chinese threat in the region and Indo-Pacific, Jaishankar said that India-US ties have grown steadily over the last 20 years.
“At a time when it is particularly important to uphold the rules-based international order, together we can make a real difference when it comes to regional and global challenges,” he said.
Pompeo said today is real opportunity for “two great democracies like ours” to grow closer.
In the talks, the two sides expressed their support for further strengthening the Quad or Quadrilateral coalition through expanded activities, including initiating a dialogue among the development organisations of partner countries, a joint statement said.
A statement issued by the US State Department said Secretary Pompeo reaffirmed the increasingly close US-India relationship and the shared goals among like-minded Indo-Pacific countries for regional security and prosperity.
The Quad comprises India, the US, Japan and Australia.
The foreign ministers of the grouping held an extensive meeting on October 6 to further expand cooperation under the coalition.
The Quad foreign ministers' talks would be held annually.
The statement issued also stated that the ministers reiterated their commitment to maintaining a free, open, inclusive, peaceful, and prosperous Indo-Pacific built on a rules-based international order, underpinned by ASEAN centrality, rule of law, sustainable and transparent infrastructure investment, freedom of navigation and overflight, mutual respect for sovereignty, and peaceful resolution of disputes.
The evolving situation in the Indo-Pacific region in the wake of China's increasing military muscle-flexing has become a major talking point among leading global powers.
The US has been favouring making Quad a security architecture to check China's growing assertiveness.
“Highlighting the importance of securing the economic and security interests of all stakeholders having a legitimate interest in the region, the ministers welcomed the growing understanding on the Indo- Pacific among like-minded countries. They reaffirmed that closer India-US cooperation will support shared interests in promoting security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond. They also 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 statement added.
At a press conference after the talks, Singh said both sides assessed the security situation across the Indo Pacific and reaffirmed their commitment to peace, stability and prosperity of all countries in this region.
"We also agreed that upholding the rules-based international order, respecting the rule of law and freedom of navigation in the international seas and upholding the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all States are essential," he said.
"Our defence cooperation is intended to further these objectives. Both sides welcomed Australia joining the forthcoming Malabar exercise," Singh said.
Last week, India announced that Australia will be part of the upcoming Malabar exercise, effectively making it a drill by all the four member-nations of the Quad.
The invitation by India to the Australian Navy for the exercise came two weeks after foreign ministers of the 'Quad' member-nations held extensive talks in Tokyo with a focus on enhancing their cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.
In his opening remarks at the talks, Pompeo said: "Our friendship and commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific was clearly, clearly highly on display when we were in Tokyo this past week and a half for the Quad meeting that Minister Jaishankar and I had with our Australian and Japanese friends earlier this month."
Highlighting the importance of securing the economic and security interests of all stakeholders having a legitimate interest in the region, the ministers welcomed the growing understanding on the Indo-Pacific among like-minded countries, according to the statement.
"They reaffirmed that closer India-US cooperation will support shared interests in promoting security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond," it said.
"They also 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," it added.
The statement said the two sides also welcomed the recent convening of the second Australia-India-Japan-United States Quadrilateral ministerial meeting in Tokyo on October 6.
"The ministers also welcomed the fact that these consultations would now be held annually."
"They expressed their support for further strengthening Quad cooperation through expanded activities, including initiating a dialogue among the development organisations of partner countries," the statement said.
The BECA is the last of the four foundational agreements that the two countries had decided to sign. Both have already signed the General Security of Military Information Agreement in 2002, Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement in 2016 and the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement in 2018 to exchange military logistics and enabl e secure communications.
Other documents signed during the meeting include an memorandum of understanding (MoU) between Ministry of Earth Sciences and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the US, extension of the MoU on nuclear energy partnership, agreement on the exchange of customs data and a letter of intent between the Ayush Ministry and the US department of health for research on cancer.
Stop sowing disc ord, China tells Pompeo
China on Tuesday accused US Secretary of State of sowing discord between Beijing and other countries in the region. Asked about Pompeo’s visit to India, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi said his attacks and accusations against China are nothing new.
“These are groundless accusations which reflect that he is clinging to the Cold War mentality and ideological biases. We urge him to abandon the Cold War and the zero-sum game mentality and stop sowing discord between China and regional countries as well as undermining the regional peace and stability,” Wang said.
(With PTI Inputs)