Daniel Markey, senior adviser on South Asia at the United States Institute of Peace, described the reported real-time exchange between Washington and New Delhi in December as “a significant new step” since the US supplied India with actionable intelligence. “The US will have demonstrated the significant strategic utility of closer ties on an issue of intense national interest to New Delhi,” he said, adding that the Biden administration has repeatedly voiced its desire to “peel India away from dependence on Russia, especially with respect to defence trade”.
Like the US, India does not recognise Taiwan, but has maintained unofficial ties since mid-1990s. Unlike Washington, New Delhi has not officially used the term “one China” since 2008.
And even though India has for decades maintained a studied silence on Taiwan, a self-ruled island considered a renegade province by Beijing, some experts reckon that a “Taiwan contingency could also be an Indian contingency”.
India’s army chief recently said that Sino-India ties “do stand influenced by the great power rivalry currently playing out between China and the US”. He added that Chinese “transgressions” remained a “potential trigger for escalation”
Dogra, the former diplomat, said the US and India had “moved past the stages of ifs and buts” as their world views increasingly overlapped. “A practical case in point is the free and open Indo-Pacific. This is essential for US economic growth and for preservation of the rules-based international order,” he said.
The Biden administration’s National Defence Strategy published in October said the US would support allies and partners facing “acute forms of grey zone coercion from the PRC’s campaigns to establish control over the East China Sea, Taiwan Strait, South China Sea and disputed land borders such as with India”.
In its annual China Military Power Report published in November, the Pentagon said Chinese officials had warned their US counterparts to not interfere in China’s relationship with India after the 2020 Galwan violence. The US rushed to provide India with supplies, including cold weather gear, munitions and surveillance drones, soon after the lethal clash. And just months later, Washington and New Delhi agreed to intelligence sharing between their armed forces.
Jabin Jacob of the department of international relations and governance studies at India’s Shiv Nadar University said it would be a mistake to assume that Galwan would be the last of the physical clashes between troops that “will turn violent or lead to fatalities”. “Preventing such situations calls for greater vigilance on all sides, and if that can be achieved by Indo-US intelligence cooperation that is a good thing,” he said.
Rajiv Dogra, a former Indian diplomat who served in Pakistan, Italy and Romania, said this showed that India and the US have “built enough trust to be talking about technology transfers and intelligence-sharing – something that is possible only between closest strategic partners”.
Describing a real-time exchange on Chinese positions along the border as a “milestone in the US-India partnership”, Elizabeth Threlkeld of the Stimson Centre, a think tank in Washington, said it “demonstrates how the two sides can effectively push back against Chinese aggression”.
Lisa Curtis of the Centre for a New American Security and Derek Grossman of the RAND Corporation, in a March 31 report titled “India-China Border Tension and US Strategy in the Indo-Pacific”, advised that Washington should conduct joint intelligence assessment of Chinese plans and “enhance coordination with Indian officials on contingency planning in the event of a future India-China conflict”.
Speaking about the Chinese build-up along the border, General Charles Flynn, commander of US Army Pacific, said on March 30 that “activities [of] what’s called the Western Theatre Army in and along that area have been concerning for a number of months”. “Nations represented in that part of South Asia have voiced similar concerns as well,” he added.
An agreement on geospatial intelligence signed between Washington and New Delhi a few months after the clashes in Galwan became the basis of the new intelligence exchange in December, according to the US News & World Report article.
The war of words reportedly coincided with US and Indian Special Forces conducting joint war games in India. The Hindustan Times said the exercises, which were scheduled to begin on Monday, would “focus on supporting fighter aircraft operations in forward areas”. The face-off last December came just days after US-India joint military exercises ended near the Sino-India border.
On April 4, India rejected China’s attempts to rename 11 places in the region, soon after the US Senate introduced a bipartisan resolution to “reaffirm” its recognition of Arunachal Pradesh as an “integral part of India”.
Real-time intelligence provided by the US about Chinese positions along the loosely marked 2,000-mile (3,200km) frontier prepared India to successfully ward off a potential Chinese military “incursion” last year, according to a report in March. The act “caught Chinese armed forces off guard” and “enraged” Beijing while preventing the crisis from mutating into something more serious, said US News & World Report, which cited anonymous officials aware of the details.
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