The United States and India signed a new defense pact and a 10-year defense cooperation framework this week that officials say represent a new dynamic in their efforts to speed up their security relationship. They also say the recent aggressive maritime moves by the Chinese in the South China Sea have helped countries in the region align closer with the U.S.
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter and his Indian counterpart Manohar Parrikar signed the 2015 Framework for the India-U.S. Defense Relationship, which builds on the previous framework and successes to guide the bilateral defense and strategic partnership for the next 10 years, officials said. The agreement noticeably included co-production and co-development of naval defense capabilities. According to the agreement, the U.S. will help India build and design an aircraft carrier and jet engines.
Days earlier, Vietnam also signed an agreement with the U.S. to seek military hardware to better protect its maritime assets.
These agreements and the further cooperation between the U.S. and Asian militaries are being seen as another sign by the two sides to fend off the ever growing influence by the Chinese military in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean.
Before traveling to Vietnam and India, Carter said at the annual Shangri-la Defense Dialogue in Singapore that China’s aggressive land reclamation and militarization in the South China Sea are driving countries in the region to seek stronger cooperation with the United States.
“Many, many countries are expressing publicly and of course to the United States their concern,” Carter said. “Many of them, as a consequence, want to strengthen their relationships with the United States and others of their neighbors and partners.”
Senator John McCain, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters on the sideline of Shangri-La Dialogue that Asian countries are looking at American leadership and partnership in their struggle to deal with China’s alarming activities in the region.
“It has alarmed countries in the region in a way that is unprecedented,” he said. “They are coming to agreements and to acquisition also of defense capabilities that had not contemplated in years past.”
Dean Cheng, senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a research institute in Washington, told VOA that China didn’t want to see strengthened American leadership in the region as a result of China’s action in the South China Sea.
“I think it is very, very clear that other countries in the region not only are not happy about China, but increasingly looking the U.S. to lead the response, that is not going to make China happy,” Cheng said.
Beijing has accused Washington of creating discord among nations and harming peace and stability in the region.