An enhanced U.S-India relationship could help counter China’s expanding military and diplomatic influence around the world, senior Pentagon and State Department officials said Wednesday.

“That’s something where there’s no boundary, or no seam, to how the United States and India can conceive of items for discussion or areas of potential cooperation,” David Helvey, the principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs, said in Washington, D.C.

President Trump’s administration signed a landmark agreement to expand intelligence and military cooperation with India last week, during a “2+2” ministerial in which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis met their counterparts in New Delhi. Those deals continued a trend from former President Barack Obama’s administration, which designated India as a major defense partner of the United States, a relationship that American officials hope will pay dividends well beyond the Indian Ocean, particularly with regard to China.

“This year we talked quite extensively in the report about China’s roles, behavior and activities not only in the western Pacific, but in the Indian Ocean and beyond,” Helvey told the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “When we talk about where the United States and India can have conversations, it’s not bound by a line in the middle of the Indian Ocean at all.”

Pompeo and Mattis have acknowledged India’s potential to help protect freedom of navigation from an encroaching Chinese navy, but Helvey emphasized that the Indian military is developing a relationship with U.S. leaders in other regions such as Central Command. Those ties build naturally upon the common interest in the stability of Afghanistan, for instance.

Even Afghanistan operations can function as a counterweight to U.S. adversaries. China and Russia, the heavyweights of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, have discussed expanding their role in Afghanistan; there are even reports of cooperation between Chinese and Afghan forces. The United States is not a member of the SCO, but India has a seat at that table, a senior American diplomat emphasized.

“India is a member of the SCO, which is an organization that’s very active, increasingly active in the Central Asia space, bringing together Russia and China,” Alice Wells, a top State Department official for South and Central Asia. “And so I think having that communion of values, India can play and does play a very forward-leaning role in ensuring those values are embraced in projects in that for as well.”

The opportunity for a Western partner to play a major role even in the SCO, a security bloc dominated by American rivals, has tantalizing potential for the United States. “So, the partnership with India can manifest itself regionally and globally, and that’s why there is so much, I think, optimism and commitment to moving forward as quickly as possible,” Wells said.

source: Washington Examiner