China played down on Tuesday an India-US pact that allows the two countries the use of each other’s military bases, saying it was “glad” to see the collaboration as long as it promoted regional peace and stability.
“We have noted the relevant report. We hope that this cooperation between the US and India work to promote stability and development of the region,” Hua Chunying, a foreign ministry spokesperson said hours after the deal was signed in Washington.
Indian defence minister Manohar Parrikar and his United States counterpart Ashton Carter signed the logistics exchange memorandum of agreement (Lemoa) on Monday ending months of speculation surrounding the pact.
The agreement will allow the two countries access to land, air and naval bases for repair and resupply. It doesn’t extend ship ‘basing rights’ and gives access only to logistics such as fuel for joint exercises and relief, humanitarian operations.
“For such a normal cooperation between the two sides, we are glad to see it happen,” Hua said at a regular foreign ministry briefing.
Hua’s reaction to the agreement was markedly calmer to that of a leading expert and the state media– both declared that the deal marked the end of India’s “independent foreign policy”.
“The pact is a big concern. There is now a big question whether India will now lose its cherished strategic independence,” Hu Shisheng, a south Asia expert at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations told the Hindustan Times.
The state media, too, was critical.
The pact could trigger strategic troubles for New Delhi and may not make it any more secure, an editorial in the nationalist Chinese tabloid Global Times said.
“This is undoubtedly a leap forward in US-India military cooperation. US media highly applauded this deal, with Forbes hailing it as a ‘war pact’ and believing that India is shifting away from Russia, its Cold War ally, toward a new alliance with the US,” the editorial said.
But it was not good for Sino-India relations or relations between India and other countries in the region, it said.
“If India hastily joins the US alliance system, it may irritate China, Pakistan or even Russia. It may not make India feel safer, but will bring strategic troubles to itself and make itself a centre of geopolitical rivalries in Asia,” the commentary said.
What is under threat is India’s traditional foreign policy of non-alignment, the newspaper said, adding New Delhi seemed to be gradually succumbing to the US’s overtures.
“India has practised the principles of non-alignment since independence, which have been advocated by Indian elites. However in recent years, Washington has deliberately wooed New Delhi to become its quasi ally so as to impose geopolitical pressure on China. It is possible that the Modi administration is trying an unconventional way to lean toward the US with the logistics agreement,” it said.
But will the returns of such a strategy be substantial? The newspaper didn’t think so. “But how close the US-India relationship can be and what geopolitical values it can get remains a question,” it said.
Despite expanding India-US ties, the newspaper was optimistic that India would not change its independent foreign policy.
“Due to its non-alignment policy, India has been given attention from all the major powers such as the US, Japan, China and Russia in recent years,” it said.
“Now is arguably a time when India has the most room for strategic manoeuvring. During Shinzo Abe’s first tenure as Japan’s prime minister, Japan hyped the concept of a quadrilateral alliance between the US, Japan, Australia and India; however, New Delhi remained cool to the idea,” it said.
“Therefore, India will not lean toward the US, because it will not only hurt India’s self-esteem, more importantly, India can gain more strategic benefits by striking a balance between China and the US.”