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US says India's presence in Asia-Pacific region is `important

31 August 2016

The United States, which on Tuesday signed a historic defence logistics agreement with New Delhi, said India's presence in the Asia-Pacific region is "important" in the backdrop of China's assertiveness in the South China Sea region.

"Discussing tensions in the Asia Pacific region is something that's not uncommon when we're meeting our Indian counterparts, and there's certainly a lot there because India is - India does have a purpose and a presence in the Pacific that's important," US State Department spokesperson John Kirby said in his press briefing on Tuesday.

Kirby was addressing the media after the second India-US Strategic and Commercial Dialogue co-chaired by external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj in New Delhi.

India and the US signed an agreement on sharing military logistics, in a major step forward in closer bilateral defence cooperation.

Indian defence minister Manohar Parrikar and US secretary of defence Ashton Carter signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (Lemoa) in Washington on Tuesday.

The agreement is part of the Obama administration's Pivot to Asia strategy. But Kirby said that ties between Washington and New Delhi were not only good for the two countries but for the world as well.

"Broadly speaking, a deepening, stronger, more cooperative bilateral relationship with India is nothing that anybody should fear or worry about," he said.

"We both are democracies; we both have incredible opportunities and influence on the global stage, and a better relationship between the US and India is not just good for our two countries, not just good for the region, it's good for the world."

China, on the other hand, sees Washington's moves to involve India in South China disputes as against India's interests, saying that it would only help antagonise China and Pakistan and even Russia.

"If India hastily joins the US alliance system, it may irritate China, Pakistan or even Russia," leading Chinese state-run English daily, the Global Times, said in an editorial.

"It may not make India feel safer, but will bring strategic troubles to itself and make itself a centre of geopolitical rivalries in Asia," it added.

Last month, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) under the UN Convention for the Law of the Seas (Unclos) in The Hague ruled in favour of the Philippines in its dispute against China over the South China Sea (See: Tribunal rules against Beijing in South China Sea dispute). India recognised the authority of the PCA and asked all parties to abide by its ruling.

An international arbitration tribunal in the PCA ruled on 12 July that China violated the Philippines' rights in the South China Sea, one of the busiest commercial shipping routes in the world.

The court accused China of interfering with the Philippines' fishing and petroleum exploration, building artificial islands in the waters and failing to prevent Chinese fishermen from fishing in the zone.

The tribunal held that fishermen from the Philippines had traditional fishing rights in Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea and that China had interfered with these rights by restricting their access.

The court held that Chinese law enforcement vessels unlawfully created a serious risk of collision when they physically obstructed Philippine vessels in the region.

China is locked in disputes over the Spratly and Paracel groups of islands in the South China Sea with other countries of the region.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected visit Vietnam, another country Beijing has disputes with, on his way to China for the G20 Summit early September.

Vietnam has appreciated India's position on the PCA ruling.

After Tuesday's bilateral Strategic and Commercial Dialogue in New Delhi, Sushma Swaraj said India and the US have decided to strengthen their cooperation in the area of maritime security.

Meanwhile, New Delhi and Washington are working towards a framework for future defence ties between the two countries.

The two sides are reported to be discussing a document prepared by India, details of which were not made public by either country.

Carter described it as ''very lengthy, detailed and a very constructive paper''. He went on to say, ''I've read that, studied it very carefully you know that's an excellent basis for the implementation of the major defence partnership.'' But he offered no details.

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