The United States and India signed a pact to share sensitive satellite and map data on Tuesday as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned of the threat posed by an increasingly assertive China.
Pompeo, who arrived in New Delhi on Monday along with Defense Secretary Mark Esper, said after talks with their Indian counterparts that the two countries had to work together to confront the threat China posed to security and freedom.
The annual US-India strategic dialogue comes at a time of heightened tension in the region, with Indian troops confronting Chinese forces on their disputed Himalayan border.
“Big things are happening as our democracies align to better protect the citizens of our two countries and indeed, of the free world,” Pompeo told reporters after the talks with Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh.
“Our leaders, and our citizens, see with increasing clarity that the Chinese Communist Party is no friend to democracy, the rule of law, transparency, nor to freedom of navigation, the foundation of a free and open, prosperous Indo-Pacific,” Pompeo said.
The new defence pact – the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement on Geospatial Cooperation – was a “significant milestone” that would foster cooperation between the militaries of both countries, Esper told the news conference.
The United States planned to sell more fighter planes and drones to India, Esper added. The pact will give India access to a range of topographical, nautical and aeronautical data that is considered vital for targeting of missiles and armed drones.
It would also allow the United States to provide advanced navigational aids and avionics on U.S.-supplied aircraft to India, an Indian defence source said.
US President Donald Trump has made being tough on China a key part of his campaign to secure a second term in next week’s presidential election and Pompeo has been trying to bolster allies to counter China’s growing influence in the region.
China dismissed Pompeo’s accusations.
“We urge Pompeo to abandon his Cold War mentality, zero-sum mindset, and stop harping on the ‘China threat’,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a news briefing in Beijing earlier on Tuesday.
India has its own problems with China.
In June, 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a clash with Chinese troops on their high-altitude border, hardening the mood in India against China and driving Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to seek closer military ties with the United States.
Jaishankar did not refer directly to China in his comments at the news conference but hailed “national security convergences” with the United States and their determination to tackle security and counter-terrorism issues and ensure peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.
This month, India invited Australia to join naval drills it holds each year with the United States and Japan, brushing off Chinese concerns that the exercises destabilise the region.
Pompeo and Esper met Modi earlier on Tuesday for talks that included regional stability, a US government spokesman said.