Chuck Hagel with Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha in New Delhi on Saturday
New Delhi, Aug. 9: The US has revived a proposal that India should join a military alliance with itself and Japan in a scenario sure to make China protest and the Indian foreign office queasy.
But US defence secretary Chuck Hagel, who said today he had sounded out the Indian leadership during his visit, said India needn’t choose between its relationships with China and the US.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to visit Japan from August 31 to September 3 and the US from September 26 to October 1.
“Just as America need not choose between its Asian alliances and a constructive relationship with China, India need not choose between closer partnership with America and its improved ties with China,” Hagel said, delivering a lecture on the 25th anniversary of the Reliance Industries-backed think tank, Observer Research Foundation here.
“In our relations with Beijing, both Delhi and Washington seek to manage competition but avoid the traps of rivalry. We will continue to seek a stable and peaceful order in which China is a fellow trustee, working cooperatively with both our nations.”
But the audience, comprising former and serving diplomats, military officers, intelligence analysts and strategic thinkers, were left with little doubt on the direction of the US defence secretary’s policy on Asia Pacific.
Early on in the lecture Hagel noted that the US was “rebalancing” towards Asia — a move that began two years back and is aimed at basing 50 per cent of US military assets in the region by 2020 — at a time the establishment in India was also “looking east”.
“As US and Indian security interests continue to converge, so should our partnerships with other nations. The United States and India should consider expanding our trilateral security cooperation with Japan, building on our combined naval participation in Malabar. We should elevate our trilateral defence cooperation by consulting at the ministerial level,” he said.
In effect, Hagel was proposing a military alliance. China has military threat perceptions from both Japan, with whom it disputes island territories like Senkaku, and India, with whom nearly the entire common frontier is disputed.
On Friday, Hagel who had briefed Modi and Arun Jaitley earlier in the day on Iraq, pulled out of an official dinner hosted by the defence minister. He was in talks with commanders as the US began air strikes on suspected militant platforms in Iraq.