Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, on Wednesday denied that US efforts to boost military relations with India were aimed at creating a “hedge” strategy against the rise of China.
“I don’t see our improving military relationship in this region in the context of any other country, including China,” said Mr Gates, who arrived in Turkey on Wednesday night from India.
Speaking to reporters before he left Delhi, Mr Gates rejected suggestions that efforts to improve relations with other militaries in the region were aimed at China. In the case of India, Mr Gates said the Pentagon wanted to bolster the ability of the US and Indian militaries to work together on issues such as piracy, terrorism and providing disaster relief.
“When you look at the kinds of activities that we are engaged in and the kind of exercises that we conduct…these expanding relationships don’t necessarily have to be directed against anybody,” said Mr Gates. “They are a set of bilateral relationships that are aimed at improving our co-ordination and the closeness of our relationships for a variety of reasons.”
The Pentagon chief arrived in Delhi from Jakarta where he offered the Indonesian military help with its modernisation programme. He also visited Canberra amid concerns that Australia’s increasing economic dependence on China could complicate security relations with the US.
One senior Pentagon official travelling with Mr Gates denied that India was in the middle of a “tug of war” between the US and China. But he suggested the US was attempting to bolster relations with Asian countries to counter China.
“There is a fundamental commonality of interests between the US and these three democracies that we have visited,” he said. “There are reasons for having interoperable weapons systems…not in an aggressive sense but certainly as a hedge.”
India had a close military procurement relationship with the Soviet Union but has been seeking in recent years to diversify away from Russian-made defence equipment, a process that has been slowed down by problems of interoperability and by a residual mistrust of US intentions.
Much of this mutual suspicion has fallen by the wayside in the past three years, after the US drive to offer India full civil nuclear co-operation.
Like the US, India is looking to take out insurance against China, with which it has an unresolved border dispute and fought a brief but bloody war in 1962. But it is reluctant to be drawn into any crude “containment strategy”.
Mr Gates welcomed the recent Indian decision to buy six Lockheed C-130J cargo aircraft. Lockheed Martin and Boeing are competing for a $10bn (€6.75bn, £5.08bn) deal to sell fighter jets to India.
Mr Gates said the US was not looking for “quick results” with India but rather a “steady expansion of our relationship”.
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