Top US defence officials are concerned at the growing presence of the Chinese Navy in the waters of the Indian ocean, which includes the establishment of military bases.
“Our concerns relate to not just China’s growing naval presence in the Indian Ocean but how it’s going to express that presence and what its intentions are,” said Dr Ely Ratner, the US Assistance Secretary of Defence who handles the Asia Pacific Region.
“We have started to see a pattern of PRC [People’s Republic of China] and PLA [People’s Liberation Army] behaviour that we have seen throughout other parts of the region that include non-adherence to international law, lack of transparency, including around its efforts to establish military installations overseas,” Dr Ratner said.
Dr Ratner’s remarks at a select briefing come just weeks after NDTV published satellite images which indicated that China’s military base in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, was fully operational with a large warship deployed.
Beijing also recently deployed a satellite and missile tracking ship, the Yuan Wang 5, which controversially docked at Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port on which Beijing enjoys a 99-year lease after Colombo found it difficult to pay for the loans taken to complete the facility.
While not directly referring to Hambantota, Dr Ratner said that Washington believes China continues “its use of coercive economic tools to achieve security aims.”
The United States remains committed to discussions around the evolving security situation in the Indian Ocean Region and believes New Delhi and Washington are “remarkably aligned in terms of both what our sight picture is on activities there, as well as our overall assessment and concerns.”
India and the United States are key strategic allies with naval engagement between both countries being a highlight of the relationship. Last year, the USS Theodore Roosevelt Aircraft Carrier Strike Group conducted the first-ever combined anti-submarine and air warfare exercises with the Indian Navy and Indian Air Force, exercises that “even a few years back, may have been unimaginable.”
Following the just-concluded Maritime Dialogue between both sides in New Delhi, Foreign Minister S Jaishankar, who is in the United States, is expected to meet the US Secretary Defence, General Lloyd Austin (retired).
While key differences remain in the bilateral relationship including on India’s historic relationship with Russia and the US decision to continue supporting Pakistani F-16 warplanes, Washington insists that it views the strategic relationship with India from a long-term perspective.
“Across the US government, we view the US-India partnership as central to our vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific. And while there may be bumps in the road along the way, we are really focused on the long game, which is building our partnership into the future and supporting India’s ability to shape a favourable balance of power in the Indo-Pacific,” Dr Ratner said.