'No US or China dilemma for India'

'No US or China dilemma for India'
US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel.

US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel has said India need not choose between ties with the United States and China even as he pushed for deeper defence engagement with the world's biggest importer of arms.

"Just as America need not choose between its Asian alliance and a constructive relationship with China, India need not choose between closer partnership with America and improved ties with China," said Mr Hagel yesterday at the Observer Research Foundation, a think-tank based in New Delhi.

Mr Hagel, who was in India on a three-day visit which ended yesterday, said New Delhi and Washington "seek to manage competition but avoid traps of rivalry" as he spoke about transforming defence ties between India and the United States.

Noting India had deepened ties across the region with, among others, "Japan, Vietnam, Singapore and Australia", he specifically pushed for closer security cooperation between India, the US and Japan.

Analysts said that Mr Hagel's remarks on India-China ties was also aimed at easing Beijing's concerns over deepening ties between the world's biggest and oldest democracies.

"This is a message to China because the Chinese get nervous when high officials from the US come to India and talk about the strategic partnership. And when US officials talk about rebalance in Asia, the Chinese feel the countries are ganging up," said former Indian foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh. "But I am sure in private conversations they would have discussed the China threat," he said, referring to US and Indian leaders.

Next month, US President Barack Obama is hosting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for summit-level talks in Washington. Mr Hagel said Mr Modi would also be visiting the Pentagon during that visit which is expected to set the tone for ties between India and the US going forward.

During Mr Hagel's visit - which followed Secretary of State John Kerry's a week earlier - he also met Mr Modi and Defence Minister Arun Jaitley.

According to Gateway House, a foreign policy think-tank based in Mumbai, defence acquisitions from the US have reached an "aggregate worth of US$10 billion (S$12.5 billion) in recent years".

This is expected to increase, as India plans to purchase Apache attack helicopters, Chinook helicopters and anti-submarine warfare aircraft from the US to modernise its military.

Mr Hagel said yesterday that the US wanted to transform the defence cooperation from "simply buying and selling to co-production, co-development, and freer exchange of technology".


This article was first published on August 10, 2014.
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