As Tuesday's Quad meeting suggests, developing the Indo-Pacific region into a vibrant and prosperous hub of global trade and energy supply is an area where both Washington and New Delhi have found strategic convergence.
Whether it's the recent $90-million deal to supply spare parts for the Indian Air Force's giant C-130J Super Hercules cargo aircraft or US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo's unwavering support for New Delhi's efforts to secure the Indo-Pacific for free trade to flourish, US and India seem to be advancing their relations to a stronger and more secure pathway than ever, even as a presidential election looms in the backdrop and the two countries battle a coronavirus resurgence.
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On Tuesday, Pompeo met India's External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar on the sidelines of the Quad ministerial meeting in Tokyo and re-affirmed that robust US-India relations will also work to ensure a secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific region where trade and commerce can flourish. “Productive meeting today with Indian Minister of External Affairs Dr S Jaishankar. Together we are advancing US-India relations, combatting Covid-19 and ensuring a secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific for all,” Pompeo tweeted after the meeting.
The two top diplomats were in Tokyo to attend the second foreign ministers′ meeting of the Quad (India, US, Australia and Japan) - the grouping seen as a response to China′s growing military assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific. It was the first meeting of Quad foreign ministers amid border tensions between India and China.
While India has enjoyed solid backing from the US on the Quad, it's also agreements like the C-130J Super Hercules deal that have advanced political stability, peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and further strengthened India-US strategic and commercial relations. According to the deal, the US will repair the C-130J Super Hercules in India and provide spare part supplies and ground support. India has also ordered one spare AN/ALR-56M Advanced Radar Warning Receiver shipset; spare AN/ALE-47 Countermeasures Dispenser System shipset; 10 night-vision binoculars; 10 night-vision goggles; GPS and electronic warfare equipment.
In its notification to the Congress, the US Defence Security Cooperation Agency said the proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security of the US by helping to strengthen the US-India strategic relationship and improve the security of a major defence partner, which continues to be an important force for political stability, peace, and economic progress.
With that aim in mind, it's hardly a wonder that the bilateral gaze has fallen on the Indo-Pacific region - which has emerged as the hub of global trade and energy supply. Two-thirds of the world's container trade passes through this region, and India, China and Japan are dependent on Indo-Pacific sea routes for their trade and energy supplies. Whether its Bab Al Mandab or the Malacca Strait, maritime choke points constitute a key security risk of these sea routes, and the region is home to more than 50 per cent of the global population and rich in mineral and marine resources.
Despite the fury of strategic moves and countermoves by major powers in the region in the past decades, India and the US have found convergence to secure an open, free and peaceful Indo-Pacific anchored on a rule-based order. It's also a goal that has found resonance beyond the Quad.
“The Indo-Pacific region is a priority of German foreign policy. Our aim is to strengthen our relations with this important region and to expand our co-operation in the areas of multilateralism, climate change mitigation, human rights, rules-based free trade, connectivity, the digital transformation and, in particular, security policy,” according to German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas. “We want to help shape the order in the Indo-Pacific so that it is based on rules and international co-operation, not on the law of the strong,” he added, with an allusion that was lost on none.
The US-India partnership has endured the ravages of geopolitical trends such as the anti-globalisation movement and post-nuclear sanctions cooling off to bloom into a fruitful and productive relationship - and with the current momentum and convergence of mutual interests, it is certainly the one to watch out for in the coming years.