U.S and India bolster military ties with focus on China

The United States and India have signed an agreement to bolster military ties as both powers eye China’s growing influence in Asia, according to reports.

The pact agreed to Thursday paves the way for New Delhi to buy advanced American weaponry and to share sensitive military technology, The New York Times reported.

The two countries also promised to carry out large-scale joint military exercises off India next year.

The drills would be a first of sorts – the two countries’ forces have not previously trained simultaneously in the air, on the land and at sea, Reuters reported.

“Today’s fruitful discussion illustrated the value of continued cooperation between the world’s two largest democracies,” U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told a news conference after the agreement was signed. “We will work together for a free and prosperous Indo-Pacific.”

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The U.S. and India have drawn closer in recent years, worried about China’s rise in Pakistan, Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean, Reuters reported.

However, The Times reported that the two countries remain deeply skeptical of each other.

The U.S. is worried about how willing India will be to block China’s inroads in the region. The U.S. is also unhappy about India’s reluctance to cut trade relations with Iran.

Still, the agreement won praise.

“This is a huge deal,” Rudra Chaudhuri, a senior lecturer at King’s College, London, told the paper. “In one sense, it makes clear that the wind in the U.S.-India sail is strong, whatever differences there might be.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj met separately Thursday before joining top defense officials for talks.

"India attaches the highest priority to its strategic partnership with the United States. We see that the United States is our partner of choice," Swaraj said in her opening remarks.

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Pompeo said the U.S. values its relationship with India, and noted "we fully support India's rise."

Mattis and Indian Defense Minister Nirmala Sithataman also met separately before joining the other two leaders.

Sitharaman in her opening remarks said that defense cooperation has become one of the most significant dimensions of the countries' relationship.

"We have acquired various advanced defense platforms from the U.S. We are thus partners in building defense capability in the broadest sense of the term," she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.