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India, US naval chiefs hold talks on joint exercises

US Navy Chief Admiral John Richardson on Monday met his Indian counterpart Admiral Sunil Lanba and other senior officers and discussed joint exercises between the two navies amid rising Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

“Major issues discussed during the visit included operations and exercises, training interactions, information exchange, capacity building and capability enhancement," a statement from the Indian Navy said.

Richardson, who is on a three-day visit, also held discussions with defence secretary Sanjay Mitra, vice chief of the army staff Devraj Anbu, chief of the air staff Birendra Singh Dhanoa and members of India’s National Security Council Secretariat.

The 12-14 May visit is Richardson’s second and last tour of the region before he retires on 31 May.

Richardson’s visit follows a secretary of state Mike Pompeo’s statement that the US was “banding together with like-minded nations like Australia, India, Japan and South Korea to make sure that each Indo-Pacific nation can protect its sovereignty from coercion".

“It’s part of a greater commitment to a free and open order," Pompeo added in a veiled reference to China, and its seeming coercive activities in the South China Sea that have become a flashpoint for US-China relations in Asia.

China is building up its navy at a fast pace, as well as seeking and acquiring military bases across the world. As part of the new military doctrine advocated by Chinese President Xi Jinping, the 2.3 million-strong Chinese military has cut down the size of its army by 300,000 over the past few years and expanded its navy and air force to buttress its growing global influence.

In 2017, China established a logistic base in Djibouti in the Indian Ocean. It has developed Pakistan’s Gwadar port in the Arabian Sea and acquired Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port in a debt swap for 99 years. On Monday, the Chinese media reported that Beijing had commissioned two more guided missile destroyers, taking the total count of warships to 20, with more in the pipeline. Beijing currently has one aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, but plans to have five-six, news reports said.

To counter Beijing, the US is seeking a bigger role for India in stabilising and maintaining the rule of law in the Indo-Pacific region–a large swathe of land and sea stretching all the way from the west coast of the US to the shores of east Africa.

India is now seen as a major defence partner of the US. The US and India along with Japan and Australia are loosely known as the Quad and are in dialogue at the official level to maintain peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. Last week, two Indian naval ships participated in a joint naval exercise with the US, the Philippines and Japan—a “Group Sail" through the disputed South China Sea. News reports said the event could be seen as India, the US and Japan backing the Philippines in its claims over disputed parts of South China Sea.

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