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India Ascendant?
U.S. and India Discuss Joint South China Sea Patrols

Reuters reports that India and the U.S. may conduct joint patrols in the South China Sea:

The United States and India have held talks about conducting joint naval patrols that a U.S. defense official said could include the disputed South China Sea, a move that would likely anger Beijing, which claims most of the waterway.

Washington wants its regional allies and other Asian nations to take a more united stance against China over the South China Sea, where tensions have spiked in the wake of Beijing’s construction of seven man-made islands in the Spratly archipelago.

India and the United States have ramped up military ties in recent years, holding naval exercises in the Indian Ocean that last year involved the Japanese navy.

But the Indian navy has never carried out joint patrols with another country and a naval spokesman told Reuters there was no change in the government’s policy of only joining an international military effort under the United Nations flag.

India generally doesn’t like to swing its weight one way or the other too much—much of Delhi’s flexibility and bargaining power comes from its potential to shift the power balance in Asia. Lately, however, India has begun to look like it may pick a side in Asia’s Game of Thrones: last month, New Delhi agreed to help Vietnam spy on China, and last fall, India held joint military exercises with Australia. So, in some ways the winds do seem to be blowing towards India joining the United States’ challenge to China. But these patterns are difficult to read, and India’s history makes us uncertain about whether these talks will lead to anything.

Still, it’s an important story to watch because if Delhi did work with Washington in the South China Sea, the partnership would present a potent challenge to Beijing.

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