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'US should pursue robust military engagement with India'

world Updated: Jul 19, 2011 10:23 IST

The US should pursue robust strategic and military engagement with India to limit China's geopolitical horizons and encourage a stable balance of power in Asia, two noted American scholars said on Tuesday.

"The US should pursue robust strategic and military engagement with India in order to encourage a stable balance of power in Asia that prevents China from dominating the region and surrounding seas," said Lisa Curtis and Dean Cheng, of The Heritage Foundation in an article 'A Strategic vision for US-India Relations'.

Noting that the US and India share a broad strategic interest in setting limits to China's geopolitical horizons and can work together to support mutually reinforcing goals without becoming "allies" in the traditional sense, they said the US should support India's military modernisation campaign, including its quest for increasingly sophisticated technologies, and develop new initiatives for keeping the Indian Ocean safe and secure.

Additionally, the US should remain closely engaged with the smaller South Asian states and temper any expectations that the US and China can cooperate in South Asia, where India remains the predominant power.

Although India's recent decision to forego American planes to fulfill its fighter aircraft needs has added a dose of realism to Indo–US relations, the complex challenge presented by a rising China will inevitably drive the US and India to elevate ties and increase cooperation across a broad range of sectors in years to come, they wrote.

Curtis and Cheng said China's increased assertiveness in the East and South China Seas over the past year has been accompanied by a hardening position on its border disputes with India.

Last summer, India took the unprecedented step of suspending military ties with China in response to Beijing's refusal to grant a visa to an Indian Army general serving in Jammu and Kashmir, they wrote.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to New Delhi last December helped tamp down the disagreement, and military contacts have since resumed.

"Still, the incident shows the fragility of the Sino–Indian rapprochement and the potential for deepening tensions over the unresolved border issues to escalate," she wrote.

Curtis and Cheng said Clinton's visit to India for Strategic Dialogue talks provides an opportunity to take India's pulse on China and to discuss new diplomatic and security initiatives that will contribute to maintaining a stable balance of power in Asia.

The US should demonstrate support for Indian military modernisation and enhanced US–Indian defense ties.

While China's economy is several times larger than India's and its conventional military capabilities today outstrip India's by almost any comparison, Beijing has begun to take notice of Indi'’s growing global political and economic clout, as well as the broad-based American support for expanding strategic ties with India, they said.

For its part, India, long suspicious of China's close relations and military support for Pakistan, views an increased Chinese presence in northern Pakistan and expanded civil nuclear cooperation between Beijing and Islamabad as particularly worrisome.

Indian military strategists believe they must plan for the possibility of a two-front war with Pakistan and China even as they actively seek dialogues with both to diminish the chances of such a dire scenario, Curtis and Cheng said.