NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India will sign a military agreement with the United States for sharing of sensitive satellite data, the defence ministry said on Monday, as the two sides began a top-level security dialogue aimed at countering China’s growing power in the region.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper flew into New Delhi for talks with Indian leaders at a time when India is locked in its most serious military standoff with China at the disputed Himalayan border in decades.
Washington, for its part, has also ramped the diplomatic pressure on China, as ties worsen over a range of issues from Beijing’s handling of the coronavirus to its imposition of a new security law in Hong Kong and ambitions in the South China Sea.
Ahead of the formal two-plus-two talks on Tuesday involving top diplomats and military officials, Esper met his Indian counterpart Rajnath Singh and the two men discussed the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement on Geospatial Cooperation that is ready for signing, the Indian defence ministry said.
“The two ministers expressed satisfaction that agreement of BECA will be signed during the visit,” the ministry said in a statement.
The accord would provide India with access to a range of topographical, nautical and aeronautical data that is considered vital for targeting of missiles and armed drones.
It would also allow the United States to provide advanced navigational aids and avionics on U.S.-supplied aircraft to India, an Indian defence source said.
U.S. companies have sold India more than $21 billion of weapons since 2007 and Washington has been urging the Indian government to sign agreements allowing for sharing of sensitive information and encrypted communications for better use of the high-end military equipment.
Esper also welcomed Australia’s participation in next month’s naval exercises involving India, United States and Japan off the Bay of Bengal.
China has previously opposed such multilateral wargames, seeing them as aimed against it and India had long resisted expanding them for that reason.
But the border tension with China this summer, which erupted in a clash killing 20 Indian soldiers, has hardened the public mood against Beijing and is driving closer ties with the United States, analysts say.
“Our talks today were fruitful, aimed at further deepening defence cooperation in a wide range of areas,” Singh said in a tweet.
Pompeo separately met Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar. There was no immediate word on that meeting.
After India, Pompeo will travel to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, two Indian Ocean countries where China has financed and built various infrastructure, to the alarm of India and the United States.
(Reporting by Sanjeev Miglani and Nigam Prusty; Additional reporting by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)