Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in Washington this week, holding discussions about “foundational agreements” on defense logistics with President Obama and giving every indication that New Delhi wants strengthened ties with the United States. The WSJ reports:
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has worked to forge closer strategic ties with the U.S. as China’s rise changes the balance of power in Asia, will seek to cement progress the two countries have made on economic and security fronts when he arrives in Washington on Monday.
Mr. Modi will address Congress during the three-day visit, which comes just months before President Barack Obama leaves office. India’s Foreign Ministry described Mr. Modi’s White House meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, as a “consolidation visit,” after two years of brisk diplomacy between the countries and deepening relations between the two leaders.
The trip furthers one of Mr. Obama’s foreign-policy efforts: cultivating New Delhi as part of the U.S.’s Asian pivot.
India isn’t just looking to the U.S. for help, of course. Back home, the Indian defense ministry has announced plans to expedite and expand its infrastructure in the Indian Ocean. The Times of India reports:
India is now trying to fast-track long-pending plans to bolster its military presence in island territories on both the western and eastern seaboards to ensure it can keep a hawk-eye on the rapidly-militarising Indian Ocean Region (IOR), as well as protect its huge maritime interests there. […]
“The aim is to first establish military presence in outlying islands through NavDets and then gradually build them up. Navy and Coast Guard units at Kavaratti, Minicoy, Agatti, Androth and other islands are also being progressively upgraded,” said a defence ministry official.
The overall plan to bolster maritime and coastal security includes setting up of forward-operating bases (FOBs) at Tuticorin (Tamil Nadu) and Paradip (Odisha), smaller operational turn-around (OTR) bases at Kamorta, Campbell Bay, Shibpur and Diglipur in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and NavDets at Bitra and and Minicoy islands in Lakshadweep.
There is also, of course, the plan to crank up force-levels and infrastructure in the strategically-located Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC), the country’s last military outpost, to counter China’s strategic moves in IOR as well as ensure security of sea lanes converging towards the Malacca Strait.
New Delhi has been worried for sometime now about Beijing’s “string of pearls” in the Indian Ocean. India has watched with trepidation as China has built a network of dual-use civilian and military sites stretching from Hainan to Djibouti. Catching up to what has become Asia’s largest indigenous navy will be no easy task for an India that has already had a history of struggling to compete with Chinese military growth.
However, India isn’t yielding easily as Modi works to follow two decades of India’s ‘Look East’ policy with an ‘Act East’ policy. The new bases should provide much needed capacity for India to house billions of dollars of new nuclear submarines and carriers that India has recently bought or is building.
India has traditionally tried to remain neutral in geopolitical disputes, and it still adheres to a non-aligned policy. But between all the new infrastructure and improving cooperation with America, it’s clear which way New Delhi is leaning as the threat of China looms.