Warning India against the increasing Chinese influence in the Indian Ocean region, a top American military commander on Wednesday stressed on the need to sign two key agreements between India and the US for joint tracking.
Admiral Harry B Harris, who heads the US Pacific Command, termed Chinese submarine forays into the Indian Ocean an “issue” and said signing of the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement will help in joint tracking.
“India should be concerned about increasing Chinese influence,” he told a select group of journalists.
Harris also flayed China’s relationship with Pakistan and Bangladesh.
“I am not a CENTCOM guy but I think the relationship between China and Pakistan is of concern and I believe that Indian counterparts are also concerned. I believe that China’s relationship with Bangladesh is also of some concern,” he said.
“A strong and prosperous China was not a bad thing. It is when that strength and prosperity tuns into aggression and coercion, it becomes a problem. It could become a problem for all of us,” says Admiral Harry B Harris, who heads the US Pacific Command.
The top American commander said both India and the US have come a long way in the last few years.
“Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement is a clear indicator of progress. There are other foundational agreements like COMCASA and Basic Exchange and the Cooperation Agreement for Geospatial Information and Services Cooperation (BECA).
“These are important foundational agreements. If we get these agreements signed, I think we will be at great place. But I do not want to punish India in the COMCASA or BECA areas i.e. before India is ready to go,” he said.
Asked about the Indo-US cooperation in the Indian Ocean, Harris said, “In tangible terms, with the P8i aircraft, we will be able to do more interoperable activities”.
He said the aircraft provided the best capable anti-submarine platform.
“While India has the P8i, we have the P8A, they are not completely interoperable because of different communication system. In order to really maximise the potential here in the Indian Ocean against those submarines (Chinese), we need to move this agreement forward,” the US commander said.
Noting that LEMOA was signed after talks of over a decade, he hoped that the two agreements will not take the same time period.
Talking about the US’s help to India in tracking of Chinese submarines in the Indian Ocean, Harris said, “We work closely with India. Malabar exercise helps us horn our ability of highly technical tracking of submarines. I think we are getting better together on our ability to track what china is doing in the Indian ocean.”
“Chinese submarines are clearly an issue and we know that they are operating through the region,” he added.
The senior US commander commented that a strong and prosperous China was not a bad thing.
“It is when that strength and prosperity tuns into aggression and coercion, it becomes a problem. It could become a problem for all of us,” he said.
Earlier, addressing the Raisina dialogue in New Delhi, Harris said he can proudly report on the upward trajectory of cooperation between India and the US.
“With its commitment to improving its defence capabilities and modernising its forces, India has demonstrated it has skin in the game,” he said.
Talking about the South China Sea, he said no one, including him, wants conflict.
“I have been loud and clear that I prefer cooperation so that we can collectively address global security challenges. But I have also been clear that we will not allow the shared domains to be closed down unilaterally — no matter how many bases are built on artificial features in the South China Sea.
“I say this often but it is worth repeating — we will cooperate where we can and be ready to confront where we must,” he said.
Harris said there were many who questioned the motive behind the increasingly cooperative relationship between the US and India.
“They say that it is to balance against and contain China. That is simply not true. Our relationship stands on its own merits,” he said.
He said a hindrance to free flow of navigation in Indian Ocean can disrupt economies.
“The threat to freedom of navigation is the biggest threat,” he said.
Speaking about the terror group ISIS, Harris said as the group was being eliminated elsewhere, some of the surviving foreign fighters will likely return to the countries from whence they came.
“What is worse is that they will be radicalised and weaponised. We have seen the beginning of this trend in the Indo-Asia-Pacific. It is not a theory. It is real. In the past year alone, ISIL has made its murderous intentions clear in places like Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia and the United States.
“It is clear that ISIL wants to conduct its bloody attacks right here in this country. But so far, ISIL’s plans for operations in India have been thwarted by the diligent work of India’s law enforcement, intelligence and counter-terrorism agencies,” he said.