India and the United States have held “informal discussions” on conducting joint naval patrols, according to a US defence official but no decisions have been taken yet.
There was no confirmation or denial, however, of a Reuters report on Wednesday that the patrols could include the disputed South China Sea.
“I can confirm that some informal discussions on joint patrols in general have occurred,” a defence official told Hindustan Times in response to a request for comments to the article.
Reuters reported that joint naval patrols being discussed could include the South China Sea, which is likely to anger China given its claim over most of the waterway.
It added that the two countries were hoping to launch the joint patrol within the year, likely in the Indian Ocean where India is a major player as well as in the South China Sea.
Sources in the Indian defence ministry told HT that the report was “highly speculative”.
US department of defence spokesperson Commander Bill Urban said in a statement: “The United States and India continue to explore ways to deepen our defense cooperation, including in the area of maritime security. The US Department of Defence and the Indian Ministry of Defence prioritised this area of cooperation in the ‘Framework for the US-India Defence Relationship’ signed by Secretary Carter and Minister Parrikar in June 2015. We continue to work with our Indian counterparts on how and where to expand engagement in this area.”
He added: “On the matter of joint patrols, no decisions have been made and we do not have any additional details to provide at this time.”
There was no specific response about the South China Sea.
An Indian Navy spokesperson told Reuters the force has never carried out joint patrols with other countries, and there was no change in its policy of only joining UN-led operations abroad.
That’s why India chose to conduct anti-piracy operations on its own, the spokesman told the new agency, and did not join a multi-nation effort.