Tuesday, November 9, 2010

China Fears Spark Indo-US Courting

When the US Navy and Indian forces held their annual bilateral amphibious training exercise in late September, it got little attention from the international media. It was, after all, a relatively small, joint tabletop exercise between the two nations.But the interesting thing about Exercise Habu Nag was not in the manoeuvres that were being executed, nor their size. It was all about the location—in the waters off Japan’s Okinawa, just as Sino-Japanese tensions were rising over a maritime territorial dispute.

Indeed, it’s fitting that the issue of China again loomed so large over the exercises, because it has been Chinese criticism that in the past couple of years has deterred India from engaging fully with the United States in this way.
Against this backdrop, the long border between the two countries remains unsettled and prone to misunderstandings, accidents and standoffs. Yet any confrontation between India and China isn’t likely to come on land—it is much more likely to occur in the Indian Ocean Region and South China Sea. For, while Beijing doesn’t even accept Indian pre-eminence in the Indian Ocean region, New Delhi is itself pushing its way into the Malacca Straits and the South China Sea—an area Beijing regards as a core interest.

The USS Trenton, a decrepit amphibious ship, was the first such platform bought by the Indian Navy, in 2007, for the ‘throwaway’ price of $50 million. India has placed orders for six heavy-lift military transport planes C-130J.India has also contracted Boeing to supply 12 P-8i Poseidon long range maritime patrol aircraft.  Washington has been pressing India to purchase US military hardware worth in excess of $13 billion. Who gets a piece of this Indian pie will largely depend on which fighter aircraft the Indian Air Force decides to buy to shore up its fast depleting combat jet strength—US firms Lockheed Martin and Boeing are among six foreign companies that have bid for the $11 billion fighter jet deal.Another deal hanging in the balance is $3.5 billion worth 10 C-17 Globemaster planes for the Indian Air Force.

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