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With Looming China Threat, US, India Could Ink ‘Big Deals’ Ahead Of 2020 Presidential Elections

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As tensions continue to mount between India and China, the United States continues to tighten the noose around Beijing. In view of strengthening diplomatic and military ties, New Delhi and Washington are set to hold their first 2+2 format dialogue between foreign and defense ministries in September.

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The plan to hold the 2+2 ministerial meeting through video conferencing has been in the works since July even as tensions between New Delhi and Beijing have intensified with talks of disengagement between Indian and Chinese troops making no headway.

The 2+2 talks will be led by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Defense Minister Rajnath Singh, with their counterparts from Washington – the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

Indian official sources told ThePrint that two key pacts might be inked as a result of the meet, the last of US defense foundational pacts – Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), which will enable India and the US to cooperate in geospatial intelligence. This will likely sharpen the accuracy of weapons and hardware used for military purposes.

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The reports also mentioned that the draft agreement had been prepared in Washington by March 2020, which, however, got delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

India and the U.S. have previously signed key foundational U.S. defense pacts, namely the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), Industrial Security Annex (ISA) to the India-US General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA)- the last of which were signed in a similar 2+2 meeting last year in December.

The meetings come at a very crucial time when India’s standoff with China has accelerated to a dangerous level. “The 2+2 this time will be taking place under very different circumstances. The world then when the last 2+2 meeting took place and the world now are very different places. We expect the Indo-Pacific construct and the Quad framework to strengthen further after this round of 2+2 talks, BECA is also on the agenda,” a senior official, who didn’t wish to be named.

Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Programme at the Wilson Center in Washington, says “It’s certainly the right time to convene the next 2+2 session… To be sure, the upcoming US election may put a damper on the meeting, given that this may be the last time India sees the Trump administration on the other side of the table in the 2+2.”

The American side has also confirmed that BECA is indeed in the discussions list. “There’s much that could be on the agenda — how to make progress on finalizing BECA, the last remaining foundational agreement, what can be done with the Quad, how to scale up technology transfers and intelligence sharing, and so on”, added Kugelman.

The global scenario compared to last year has changed, and several significant changes like the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S.-China Trade War, the tensions in the South China Sea, Beijing’s troubled borders, and China’s support to Iran has created overt tensions between Washington and Beijing.

Pompeo and Esper both have criticized China for the ongoing faceoff at the LAC while US President Donald Trump has even offered to mediate between the two.

The United States sees India as a potential power in South Asia to counter the Chinese threat and aims to deepen ties to establish a better diplomatic presence in the region. “The China-India spat has accentuated the opportunities for, and the necessities of, deepening US-India security cooperation. The 2+2 offers a useful forum to discuss how to seize these new opportunities and how to move the needle forward on bilateral relations,” Kugelman stated.

“Because of China’s aggression globally, including the LAC incident with India, there is now a sense of urgency between both sides (India and the US) to coordinate and bring in momentum in the defense partnership, by way of more procurement. And this momentum has to be built now,” said Mukesh Aghi, president and chief executive officer, US-India Strategic Partnership Forum.

“This will be the focus even for the new administration that comes in. The US now wants to align with India, and the LAC incident just accelerated that,” he adds.

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