Ahead of his maiden visit to China on April 18, India’s defence minister Manohar Parrikar has indeed kept Chinese sensitivities in mind and followed an extremely balanced and matured approach while taking decisions during the just concluded three day visit of the US defence secretary, Ashton Carter to India.
Whether it was the signing of the logistics agreement with the US or India’s stand on the South China Sea, Parrikar showed astute strategic sense.
Firstly, the Logistics Support Agreement (or the LSA as it is called) was suitably modified to suit India’s interests and the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (or LEMOA) that was agreed to in principle is aimed at sharing logistics and berthing facilities between the Indian and American forces and that too on a reimbursable basis.
LEMOA is the tweaked version of the earlier LSA and ensures enough safeguards that gives India the right to refuse access to its military bases whenever it so desires.
Speaking to the DefenceAviationPost.com, a senior MoD official said the will only facilitate military logistics cooperation such as joint military exercises and does not entail stationing of any US troops on Indian soil and this agreement is in no way a move by New Delhi to support Washington in forming any alliance against Beijing.
He stressed that Parrikar was conscious of the Chinese sensitivities related to India’s signing of this agreement with the US and hence the built in safeguards in the agreement.
Parrikar had very clearly stated that LEMOA will facilitate logistics such as fuel or other support during operations like the humanitarian exercise done in wake of the devastating earthquake in Nepal.
Carter’s three day visit to India from April 10th to 12th — as it came barely a week ahead of Parrikar’s visit to China, there was no commitment given by New Delhi on any joint naval patrolling with the US in the South China Sea. Neither did Parrikar agree to come on board the quadrilateral security dialogue in the Asia Pacific region that the US has been pushing as a counter to China’s aggressive behaviour in the South China Sea.
The US Pacific command chief admiral Harry Harris had pitched for a quadrilateral security dialogue among India, Japan, Australia and the US, even as he hoped that joint patrolling would materialise in the Asia-Pacific region in “the not too distant future”, as was reported by mainline daily The Times of India.
In his joint interaction along with Carter with the Indian and the US media, Parrikar clarified that, “Till now, India has never participated in joint patrolling. We do participate in joint exercises. So, the question of joint patrolling at this stage does not arise.”
This, officials said, was clearly a considered strategic and neutral view taken by Parrikar and keeping in mind the sensitivities on account of the unsettled borders with China.
After the last visit of former defence secretary A K Antony to China, in the previous UPA regime, this is Parrikar’s first trip to China. During his visit to China, Parrikar will engage with Chinese authorities for three days and hold extensive discussions on improving security ties between the two sides.
He is also scheduled to visit some defence establishments. Reports said that Parrikar will be visiting the newly-created west theatre command (WTC) at Chengdu. He will also meet top military leaders during his three day visit that will start with Shanghai. Parrikar will also be meeting Indian business community in China besides holding extensive discussions with his Chinese counterpart as also the Chinese premier.
Parrikar continues to be optimistic on India’s relations with China that he said “can be much better.”
In an exclusive interaction with DefenceAviationPost.com, the last official exclusive interview of Parrikar in the recent past, the minister hoped that the day would soon come when the decades-old boundary dispute between the two Asian superpowers gets resolved.
“They (relations) are much better than what they were two years back,” the charismatic minister, who graduated from IIT Bombay, told DefenceAviationPost.
“They (our relations with China) can still become better. The day might come when they (China) agree to settle the border dispute,” Parrikar said.
Asked about the agenda of his impending visit, Parrikar said such visits help relations between the nuclear-armed neighbours get “better”. “It’s a normal visit which happens as per schedule. They had invited me. These are processes of getting the relations better and better,” he said.
India and China share a long border. There have been repeated troop transgressions from the Chinese side along the 4057 km Line of Actual Control (LAC). The two sides are likely to discuss the effective implementation of the bilateral border defence cooperation agreement that was inked in October 2013.
In November last year, a high-powered Chinese delegation led by General Fan Changlong, Vice-Chairman of China’s powerful Central Military Commission (CMC) had visited India. The two sides had decided to deepen bilateral defence ties and maintain peace and tranquillity at the LAC. This was the highest-level Chinese defence delegation to visit India in recent years.
The regular exchanges at the highest level have led to a decline in transgressions across the LAC, with the number coming down to 387 in 2015 from 555 in 2014.
“For all talk of co-operation, China and India remain fierce rivals. Both countries need peace on the border as trade between them grows. We saw over one thousand Chinese troops enter Indian territory in September 2014 on the day their President arrived in India on an official visit. Such incidents can well be avoided,” said a defence expert.