The US and India share a common interest in supporting freedom of navigation and “free, fair and reciprocal trade,” and in the peaceful settlement of disputes in the Indo-Pacific, said one of the senior defense officials who spoke about the background to sensitive bilateral talks.
“To the extent that China, or anyone else, wishes to undermine or question these principles, that is part of how you build these relationships and build these networks to offset or fight back,” the person said.
The arrival of Austin in New Delhi marks the third stop on his first trip abroad as head of the Pentagon and follows visits to Japan and South Korea for meetings with Foreign Minister Antony Blinken and her Japanese and Korean colleagues. After his talks with Modi, Austin will meet with India’s national security adviser, the senior defense official said. On Saturday, Austin will meet with the Defense and Foreign Affairs Ministers.
The US has been trying for years to strengthen its partnership with India through increased military cooperation, particularly with the Indian Navy, and arms sales. One catch, however, could be India’s purchase of the advanced Russian S-400 missile system. The US imposed sanctions on NATO ally Turkey for purchasing the S-400 under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, but has not yet penalized India for the same purchase.
India’s potential operation of the S-400 would pose a problem for the US. The system is designed to detect and target advanced US fighter aircraft such as the F-35.
The senior defense official declined to say whether the US is weighing sanctions against the S-400, but noted that the system has not yet been shipped to India, an event likely to trigger penalties.
“Buying US equipment is not a prerequisite for promoting cooperation. Our continuing cooperation is based on a convergence of strategic interests,” said the senior defense official, adding that buying equipment that can work together is certainly a means to operationalize this partnership. “
Another senior defense official declined to comment on whether Austin would speak to Indian officials about Modi’s harsh treatment of India’s Muslim population, but said, “We routinely raise human rights issues.”
The goal in the Indo-Pacific is to develop the existing bilateral “hub-and-spoke” relationships between the various countries into a “network of overlapping relationships” that enables better information exchange and better cooperation in military operations. said the senior defense official.
“It will look very different” than the NATO alliance, the person said. “It will look very unique. It will be something that will go with the development of the Indo-Pacific.”