India and the United States will on Tuesday sign an accord on sharing sensitive information ahead of talks between their defence and foreign ministers that will focus on countering China’s growing influence.
US Defence Secretary Mark Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will meet India’s External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh as Indian and Chinese troops face off at their disputed Himalayan border.
The Pompeo-Esper visit to New Delhi is part of a concerted US campaign to draw India into a deeper defence relationship.
Esper and Singh “reinforced their commitment to deepening military-to-military cooperation” during talks on Monday, said a US Defense Department statement.
Jaishankar tweeted after his talks with Pompeo that relations between the emerging allies have “grown substantially in every domain”.
Both sides said that an accord on sharing geospatial intelligence would be signed during the day.
The Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement will allow the US to share top-secret satellite and sensor data that would help India in targeting its missiles and placing troops.
It will also allow the US to provide the latest navigational technology on any fighter jets it supplies to India.
Esper has been pressing the case for India to buy US F-18 jets and move away from its reliance on Russian weaponry.
Esper and Singh “welcomed the expansion of information-sharing”, the US statement said.
An Indian Defence Ministry statement said the two ministers discussed potential new areas of cooperation, without giving details.
Pompeo said on Monday his four-country Asia tour would focus on the threats posed by China, a topic that is expected to take a key place in the “two-plus-two” ministerial talks.
India’s arch-rival neighbour was not mentioned publicly after Monday’s meetings but the US statement said Esper and Singh “agreed to continue to work in partnership to address pressing global security challenges”.
India has sought greater international military support since the eruption of its latest deadly border showdown with China in June. At least 20 Indian soldiers were killed in the clash while Chinese casualties are unknown.
Both sides have since sent tens of thousands of troops to either side of the disputed frontier in the Ladakh region and are digging in for a long, hard winter in the high-altitude region. India is shopping for US cold-weather equipment, officials said.
India has also since agreed to expand naval manoeuvres in the Indian Ocean in November to include Australia. Traditionally, the MALABAR exercises have involved India, the US and Japan.
US officials have said they want the four-nation Quad alliance to be given a more permanent structure in moves that China’s foreign ministry said it had “noted”.
Pompeo will go on from India to Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Indonesia. China’s growing investment and influence in Sri Lanka and the Maldives have sparked concern in both the US and India.