The United States and India are preparing to sign an agreement to share satellite intelligence, media reports say, as the two sides seek to enhance security cooperation.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Mark Esper arrived in New Delhi on Monday ahead of a regular bilateral security meeting on Tuesday, as tens of thousands of troops remain stationed on the China-India border.
Pompeo and Esper will meet with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as well as Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh for talks before leaving India on Tuesday. Pompeo will then travel to Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and Indonesia, following his stop in New Delhi.
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The meeting comes amid the ongoing stand-off between Indian and Chinese troops along their disputed border and a growing closeness between Washington and New Delhi.
The Wall Street Journal and Indian media outlets reported that the two sides were preparing to sign an intelligence-sharing deal that would give India access to US map and satellite images that will enhance the accuracy of weapons and drones, which are expected to be used increasingly for surveillane along the border during the winter.
The US and India have stepped up their cooperation on defence issues since the stand-off began in May, including a security arangement with Japan and Australia known as the Quad.
Last month Pompeo told a Quad meeting in Tokyo that China had placed 60,000 troops along the Indian border.
During his visit he also told the media that all four countries faced a “real risk associated with the threats attempting to be imposed by the Chinese Communist Party”.
Li Li, an international relations professor at Tsinghua University, said the military meetings should produce easy diplomatic wins for both Modi and Donald Trump, who will benefit from looking tough on China.
“Looking strong on the international stage will be good for Trump, especially with the US election just a few days away,” said Li.
Du Youkang, a South Asia specialist at Fudan University, said that China was unlikely to be particularly concerned about the meetings.
“Of course we can expect that Pompeo, or one of the politicians at the meetings, might mention China. But this is to be expected. These are regular meetings, and China knows it’s normal for countries like India and the US to work on their military cooperation,” he said.
“Even if the US has some desire to get involved with the India-China border situation, both India and China know that this is primarily their problem to solve. In the end it’s between them.”
The visit by US officials comes on the heels of increased sabre-rattling from India. On Sunday Singh said India wanted to resolve the conflict with China peacefully, but would not allow “even one inch” of land to be taken away.
Pompeo’s trip also coincides with discussions by India’s top military officials, where they expected to focus on its border conflicts with China and Pakistan.
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