New Delhi, June 6: Fears that the Bay of Bengal could turn into an American lake under the United States’ new Asia-Pacific military strategy has made New Delhi sound warning bells in talks between Leon Panetta and A.K. Antony.
The US navy has 11 carrier battle groups of which six would be permanently stationed in the Asia-Pacific region in an arc from the Western Pacific to South Asia.
The US secretary for defence is in New Delhi to primarily explain the new US policy. But the defence establishment under Antony is not receiving the new policy with enthusiasm.
In the talks with Panetta, Antony “emphasised the need to strengthen the multilateral security architecture in the Asia Pacific and to move at a pace comfortable to all countries concerned.”
An official involved in the talks said that the new US policy threatens to “put more guns on the waters around us”. India’s western sea-board probably has the highest concentration of warships from many countries at any point of time.
Under the new US policy, with the on-again-off-again nature that marks diplomatic ties with China, there is a possibility of a dense traffic of warships in the Bay of Bengal. “The point is that if you have more guns in an area, the chances of an accidental shot being fired and escalating into a conflict goes up,” the official said. The Chinese are also accessing the Myanmarese port of Hangyyi and the Sri Lankan port of Hambantota. The Indian Navy has also noted an increase in Chinese submarine movements in the Bay of Bengal.
The US and India both want the South China Sea to be free for international mercantile traffic. But China has disputes with five countries because it claims most of the sea. The Phillippines and Vietnam, among these countries have US military bases.
The defence ministry statement said that Antony conveyed to Panetta that “it is desirable that the parties concerned themselves should settle contentious matters in accordance with international law.”
In a lecture at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis after the talks, Leon Panetta said that both the US and India wanted cooperation with China. He was keen that military-to-military relations with China should improve.
Answering a question from retired Lieutenant General J.F.R. Jacob (who was the chief of staff in Fort William, Calcutta in the 1971 Bangladesh war), Panetta said that while the US was not hunting for bases, it would work with the countries in the region to enhance their military capabilities.
Within the region, the U.S. vision is a peaceful Indian Ocean supported by growing Indian military capabilities. “America will do its part through the rotational presence of Marines in Australia, littoral combat ships rotating through Singapore and other U.S. military deployments in the region,” he said.