‘None of China’s business’: After India’s comeback, US diplomat skewers Beijing
Elizabeth Jones, the senior-most American diplomat in India, said the US interest is in supporting India’s efforts to become more capable and to ensure that its capacities are directed in ways India believe to be important
NEW DELHI: Military exercises by India and the US are none of China’s business and Washington will back New Delhi’s efforts to develop its capabilities to face regional challenges, the senior-most American diplomat in India said on Friday.
The recent meeting between US President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on the margins of the G20 Summit in Bali doesn’t signal a rapprochement and there shouldn’t be any concerns about the US diluting its relationship with India or its commitment to the Indo-Pacific, chargé d’affaires (CDA) Elizabeth Jones told a small group of Indian reporters.
Her comments came a day after India too rejected China’s opposition to an India-US joint military exercise being held near the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and said New Delhi does not give a veto to any third country on such matters.
“On the exercises and China’s comment on it, I would point you to the kind of statements that we’ve heard from our Indian colleagues to the effect that it’s really none of their business,” Jones said in response to a question on China’s opposition to the Yudh Abhyas exercise conducted at Auli in Uttarakhand, 100 km from the LAC.
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The Chinese foreign ministry had contended the drills violate border management agreements signed by China and India in 1993 and 1996.
Responding to a question on what the US can do to help India face challenges from China, Jones said: “This is something for India to talk about. Our interest is in supporting India’s efforts to become more capable and to ensure that its capacities are directed in ways they [India] believe to be important. It’s up to the Indian leadership to determine what it wants and what it needs, and we’re there to be supportive.”
India-US defence ties have grown at a steady clip in the past two decades, and Jones said the US conducted more military exercises with India than any other country in 2022.
The US sees its ties with India “as one of our most consequential relationships” and defence cooperation is part of the “natural partnership” between the two sides, said Jones, a career ambassador with extensive experience in handling relations with Europe, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The US is also focused on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s desire to increase defence production as part of the Make in India initiative and American companies are interested in participating in co-production initiatives.
“There are constant conversations, meetings and exercises to assure that we have a good understanding of the capabilities of each other and a good understanding of how we might be able to cooperate,” she said.
Jones said that although Biden met Xi on the sidelines of the G20 Summit last month and discussed a lot of issues, “it doesn’t necessarily mean there is a rapprochement, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we are turning our backs on each other”. The meeting was about having conversations on issues that the US and China “fundamentally disagree” on and it helped both sides have a better understanding of each other’s position.
“The Indian leadership has meetings with the Chinese as well for the exact same reasons… I wouldn’t look at this as a way to worry about the US-India relationship...or the US attitude about the Indo-Pacific. We are as committed to our goals in the Indo-Pacific region as we ever have been. And having conversations with China just makes it easier to understand the extent of the commitments that would be most productive,” Jones added.
The US perceives its relationships with India and Pakistan as “two completely separate policy forums and one is not dependent on the other or related to the other,” Jones said. At the same time, it is “not for the US to comment on India-Pakistan relations,” she added. A recent US package sale was aimed only at the maintenance of Pakistan’s F-16 jets and there was no upgrade involved, she said.
In response to a question on what the US is doing to push Pakistan to act against the perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, in which American citizens were also among the 166 dead, Jones said her country was “horrified” by the events of November 2008. “The US government has spent a lot of time with the governments of India and Pakistan in discussing the appropriate consequences of this,” she said.
The international community is working hard to find ways to shut down financial support for terrorist organisations, to short-circuit the recruiting of vulnerable youth, and to help people who have been radicalised, she said. “This is something that hasn’t been solved yet in the international community, in India and the US,” she added.
Jones also said the depth of the bilateral relationship allows the US to have a “frank discussion” with India on social challenges.
“In the US, the treatment of ethnic, racial and religious minorities attracts a lot of attention, just as it does here. We can learn from each other on how to promote tolerant behaviour among diverse communities because we have similar experiences and similar challenges in those social areas,” she said.
“This is a conversation we have perpetually with our Indian colleagues. One of the benefits of this consequential relationship that we have is that we are able to discuss a great variety of...easy [and] difficult issues, issues on which we agree and issues on which we don’t yet agree. We’ve been discussing this for a long time and we will continue to do so.”