Reiterating that India-U.S. partnership is a “key component” of America’s “rebalance” to the Indo-Asia-Pacific, a top U.S. Admiral last week expressed concern over China’s increased “assertiveness” in enforcing its claims in the South China Sea and supported India’s increased role in the region under the principles of open sea lanes and freedom of navigation.
During the visit of U.S. President Barack Obama to India in January, both sides signed a strategic vision document, “U.S.-India Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region,” which specifically referred to safeguarding maritime security in the South China Sea. It had not gone down well with Beijing.
“The South China seas are international waters and India should be able to operate freely wherever India wants to operate. If that means the South China Sea, then get in there and do that,” said Admiral Harry Harris, Commander US Pacific Fleet while speaking at the National Maritime Foundation.
At the same time, the Admiral described China’s naval presence in the Indian Ocean as “positive” as it was involved in anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden.
The U.S. sees India as the key to its rebalance to Asia. The Admiral acknowledged that India’s was one of the most capable navies in the U.S. exercises. He expressed intent to expand the scope of the exercises and go multilateral, probably involving ASEAN nations as well at some point.
Admiral Harris said: “I was involved with Malabar 1995 and now you look at Malabar 2014, and it is leaps and bounds beyond what it was. I would like to have an increase with India in special operations exercises.”
Under the rebalance to Asia, the U.S. plans to shift 60 per cent of its Navy to the Pacific fleet by 2020. “It is not about China,” Admiral Harris was quick to point out. “It is really about us. It is about recognising that our economic future lies in the Pacific and the Indian Ocean.”