NEW DELHI: Japan will be high on the agenda of visiting US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter, who will meet his Indian counterpart Manohar Parrikar this evening in the capital.
Besides renewing a 10-year Defence Framework Agreement between India and US, Mr Carter is likely to request India to invite Japan to participate in Malabar, an annual Indo-US bilateral naval exercise.
Malabar is a two-decade-old initiative, where the Indian and US navies exercise with each other in simulated conditions. An invitation to Japan to participate in the exercise would be intended as a strong message to China about a growing closeness and cooperation between US, Japan and India – an alliance that the US is keen to forge and project.
This is not the first time that the US will make such a request. But India, especially under the previous Congress-led UPA government, has steadfastly refused to get drawn into such an alliance.
A top defence ministry official told NDTV that India is unlikely this time too, to invite Japan for Malabar in October. It would not like to make a move that can be seen as a “tri-lateral India-US-Japan grouping,” the official said. Beijing had, in 2007, termed a joint exercise by Japan, Australia and Singapore as an “anti-China” grouping.
An official US statement said “Carter’s trip to India” will primarily be about “the re-balance to Asia.” In simple terms, “rebalance” means a change of focus in the Indian Ocean region by positioning nearly 60 percent of the US Naval fleet, which includes aircraft carriers, warships, planes and helicopters in Asia as Washington and Beijing engage in a war of words over shipping and navigation rights through the disputed South China Sea.
At a gathering of defence ministers in Singapore last week, Mr Carter severely criticised China for reclaiming 2,000 acres of land in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea to create a landing strip. “It is unclear how much further China will go. That is why this stretch of water has become the source of tension in the region,” he said.