U.S. President Joe Biden meets with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the Quad leaders summit at Kantei Palace, Tuesday, May 24, 2022, in Tokyo. - Sputnik India

Nobody in South Asia Wants to Get 'Caught up in US-China Rivalry'

Dhairya Maheshwari
Joe Biden said on Wednesday that the Indian Ocean was a "different place now" in the wake of the US efforts to bring together India, Australia and Japan under the Quad banner.
The Indian Ocean Region (IOR), including South Asia, has turned into a “theatre” of US-China rivalry amid Washington’s persistent efforts to gain a foothold in the region, a veteran defense expert has told Sputnik.
Qamar Agha, a defense and foreign policy commentator at India’s state-backed Doordarshan (DD), remarked that “nobody in the region wanted a growing American military footprint”.

“There are widespread apprehensions in South Asia about Washington’s growing military role. The countries such as Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and others [similarly] don’t want to get caught up in US-China rivalry,” Agha underlined.

Agha said that as far as China was concerned, all the South Asian nations have Beijing among their biggest trading partners, including Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and even India.
He expressed confidence that the ongoing military standoff between New Delhi and Beijing in the eastern Ladakh region could be resolved through diplomacy and dialogue.
To note, India's External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar has repeatedly said that peace and tranquility at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) form the basis of New Delhi's bilateral relations with Beijing.
President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, June 22, 2023, in Washington. - Sputnik India, 1920, 23.06.2023
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Veteran Indian diplomat Talmiz Ahmad told Sputnik that New Delhi's "ongoing alignment" with the US was a "matter of deep concern", given the bearings such a policy position could have on India's stated position of maintaining strategic autonomy or regional stability for that matter.

"The US and other western navies are increasingly involved in the Indian Ocean region through their navies. The Subcontinent countries still have memories of colonization when all the western powers used the region as as a geopolitical base and means of growing their economies," Ahmad said.

He cautioned that growing western presence could lead to India ceding its "strategic space" to these countries in the future.

The former Indian diplomat remarked that interests of India and Beijing largely "converged" as far as Indian Ocean region was concerned, as both the countries "primary interest" lie in maintaining stability in maritime lanes of commerce owing to overwhelming reliance on imported crude. Both China and India rank among the three biggest importers of crude, meeting a lion's share of their domestic requirements through imports.

‘India Under a Lot of Pressure from the US’
Agha said that India was “under a lot of pressure” from the US to play a “greater role” in the US Indo-Pacific strategy, which he noted was essentially aimed at containing Beijing’s growing geopolitical rise and preserve America’s position as the premier global military and economic power.
Biden’s National Security Strategy (NSS) also describes China as the “most consequential geopolitical challenge”.
The India-US joint statement released after summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Joe Biden noted the conclusion of a ‘Master Ship Repair Agreement’ between the two sides which would potentially make the country as a “hub for maintenance and repair for forward deployed US Navy assets”.
Under the India-US Defense Industrial Roadmap, the two nations have agreed to work together to make India a hub for “logistic, repair, and maintenance infrastructure for aircrafts and vessels,” the joint statement noted.
Modi and Biden also “welcomed” depth and pace of “enhanced consultations” on South Asia and would jointly host the Indian Ocean Conference in 2023, it said.
India has already signed four “foundational” pacts with the US -- General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), and the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA).
Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar speaks to the media during a joint news conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov following their talks in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022. - Sputnik India, 1920, 08.06.2023
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There are also growing calls from with US establishment to coopt India in the ‘NATO Plus Arrangement’ currently comprising Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Japan and South Korea. New Delhi has rejected the proposition so far, with Jaishankar stating that such a “template” doesn’t apply to India.
Agha remarked that despite all the US pressure, New Delhi “wouldn’t commit the mistake” of joining any sort of a formal military alliance with the US.
The geopolitics expert also said that New Delhi has never been in a favour of a “military solution” as means to conduct international relations.
“Prime Minister Modi has said that this is not an era of war. This philosophy applies to Indo-Pacific as well. Modi has a different agenda than what Washington has in store,” Agha reckoned.
US Wants India To Become ‘Strategically Dependent’, Says Navy Veteran
Seshadri Vasan, an Indian Navy veteran, told Sputnik that Washington wanted New Delhi to become “strategically dependent” on it.

Vasan, also the Director-General of Indian think tank Chennai Centre for China Studies (C3S), said growing US-India cooperation presented India with “challenges” as well as “opportunities”. “The concerns around ceding strategic autonomy should be taken cognizance of. But mutual concerns around China have been driving the countries closer,” he underlined.

Vasan said that the US has been offering New Delhi with advanced technologies in military and other areas and was also a key source of investments in these sectors. At present, the US ranks as New Delhi’s largest trading partner.
The US defense exports to India rose to $20 billion in 2020 from nearly zero twenty years ago, as Washington seeks to replace Moscow as New Delhi's top defense partner. Russia supplied India with nearly half of its military needs between 2017 and 2021, as per Swedish think tank Stockholm International Peace and Research Institute (SIPRI).
A U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer bomber, right, flies with an Indian Air Force light combat aircraft Tejas on the inaugural day of Aero India 2021 at Yelahanka air base in Bengaluru, India, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. - Sputnik India, 1920, 22.06.2023
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Nothing ‘Cutting-Edge’ About US Defense Tech That’s Being Shared With India: Analyst
“We haven’t been able to procure the technology to build jet engines from any other country till now. The proposal to get this crucial technology from the US is welcome,” the expert noted.
Both India and US have announced a India-US Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technologies (iCET) to bolster cooperation in futuristic technologies such as AI, quantum computing, 5G/6G, biotech, space and semiconductors.
At present, New Delhi relies entirely on imports to meet its semi-conductor requirements. The crucial technology has applications in utomobile, defence, electronics and IT industries.
Where Do Bangladesh, Pakistan & China Stand on US Involvement?
Agha pointed towards Bangladesh’s history with the US, as he noted that Dhaka had bitter memories about Washington’s adversarial role in the 1971 Bangladesh War of Liberation.
In recent years, Bangladesh has repeatedly asserted its independent foreign policy stance, amid US efforts to involve Dhaka as a Quad partner. Bangladesh’s foreign minister AK Abdul Momen has said Dhaka was against joining any military bloc and favoured a “free and open Indian Ocean”.
A Pakistani Air Force F-16 fighter jet flies during a military parade to mark Republic Day in Islamabad, Pakistan, Thursday, March 23, 2017. - Sputnik India, 1920, 02.05.2023
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There are ongoing differences between Washington and Dhaka over US’ new visa policy for Bangladesh in view of the upcoming general election. Dhaka has said that it remains committed to prevent any “interference” in Bangladesh’s electoral process.
Although not directly linked to the Indian Ocean, countries such as Myanmar and Pakistan have also expressed concerns over the India-US joint statement, owing to respective references to the political situation and cross-border terrorism.
Beijing, for its part, has said that India-US military cooperation “should not undermine regional peace and stability, target any third party, or even harm the interests of any third party”.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said that India-US efforts should be “conducive to mutual trust between regional countries in the field of security and stability in the region.
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