Why India’s closer ties to US need not harm relations with China

Minnie Chan

The latest US$3 billion US-Indian arms deal is partly motivated by their shared desire to check China’s strategic desires, but defence analysts said this closeness did not mean New Delhi wished to isolate Beijing.

The new arms deal, including the sale of 24 MH-60 Romeo Seahawk helicopters and six Ah-64E Apache attack helicopters, was concluded following US President Donald Trump’s meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi in New Delhi on Tuesday.

The decades-long rivalry with Pakistan is Indian’s biggest strategic concern, but Chaturvedy Rajeev Ranjan, a visiting fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said the growing Chinese influence in the region was also an important factor in the arms deal and other strategic agreements between the two.

“The deal is commensurate with India’s willingness to play a leading role as a net security provider ... It will greatly enhance Indian navy’s anti-submarine warfare capability” he said.

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“Deepening India-US friendship underlines a steady and substantial progress in this important relationship.”

The MH-60, developed and built by Lockheed Martin, is the US Navy’s primary anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare helicopter and is also capable of search and rescue and supply missions.

The helicopters will replace India’s current ageing fleet of 15 British-made Sea King helicopters that were put into service in 1991, according to The Economic Times.

It said the six Apache attack helicopters, which it described as “flying tanks”, would play a major role in India’s ground force.

An American MH-60 helicopter. Photo: Reuters

Besides their strategic rivalry in the Indian Ocean, China and India have yet to resolve their border disputes despite holding more than 20 rounds of talks in recent years.

Beijing-based military expert Zhou Chenming said Washington’s arms sales to New Delhi could be seen as part of Trump’s Indo-Pacific strategy, which aims to isolate China by joining forces with India, Japan and Australia to form the so-called Quad.

But he argued such a move need not harm relations between China and India and noted India was also keen to enhance its role as an independent power.

“Washington might use the increasingly active warship patrols by the People’s Liberation Army Navy in the Indian Ocean as good reason to sell India the MH-60 Romeo Seahawk helicopters,” Zhou said.

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“India also needs the arms deals because Modi is going to enhance his country’s independent defence policy by reducing Indian military’s reliance on Russian weapons.”

India has been a big buyer of Russian weapons for five decades, including aircraft carriers, submarines and fighters.

Zhou said Beijing believed that Modi would not side with the US against China.

“Modi understands that in order to be a real independent big country, he shouldn’t take either sides to China, Russia, or the US, when dealing with the three big superpowers,” Zhou said.

Ranjan said: ”The China challenge is an important factor driving India-US relations. But, it is also a fact that China is India’s biggest neighbour that it has to engage with,” he said.

“Modi has developed a good understanding with China as well.”

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