As India allows American warships and planes to use its naval bases, China has reacted guardedly to the decision, saying Beijing hopes that the change in India’s foreign policy will not trigger fresh tension in the region. India did not allow foreign countries to use its military bases in the past. However, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar signalled a change in the foreign policy after his recent meeting with visiting US Defence Secretary Ash Carter.

Speaking at a joint press conference with Carter earlier this week, Parrikar said that American aircraft and warships would soon be able to access Indian military bases and vice versa for refuelling, repair and other logistical purposes. The defence minister also said that New Delhi and Washington “agreed in principle” to share military logistics. According to Parrikar, the two governments will soon sign a Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) to bolster defence co-operation.

Meanwhile, Carter welcomed Parrikar’s announcement, stressing that the proposed move would tighten the bilateral strategic clinch. He told the media that India’s decision would help the US “re-balance” 60% of its naval forces to the Asia Pacific (mainly to counter an increasingly assertive China).

Later, a senior official of the Indian Defence Ministry explained that India and America would provide logistic support, refuelling and berthing facilities for each other’s warships and aircraft on barter or equal-value exchange basis. However, New Delhi will not allow the US to station its troops on the Indian soil and extend support, if America declares war against “a friendly country”. The LEMOA will also allow the Indian forces, who rarely operate far away from their shores, to access to Djibouti and Diego Garcia in the coming days.

In New Delhi, Parrikar and Carter signed a Communication Interoperability and Security Memorandum Agreement (CISMOA) on the basis of which the US would transfer high-tech avionics, encrypted communication and electronic systems to India. Carter said that the CISMOA would boost ‘interoperability’, as well as ensure secrecy of its C4ISR (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) systems. However, a section of Indian defence experts fears that America will be able to track and snoop on Indian warships and aircraft equipped with such systems.

Despite India’s unwillingness to position American digital sensors on its soil, it signed the Basic Exchange and Co-operation Agreement (BECA) for Geo-Spatial Co-operation with the US during Carter’s trip. The defence secretary was of the opinion that BECA would help India with advanced satellite and topographical data for long-range navigation and missile-targeting. As India already has its own satellite imaging capabilities, New Delhi was not interested in signing the BECA.

Soon after Parrikar and Carter held the joint press conference, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said in Beijing that India, as a responsible country, might have changed its foreign policy after considering the current global geo-political landscape. Asked about the agreement that enables Indian and American forces to use each other’s assets and bases for repair and replenishment of supplies, Lu stressed: “India is also an influential country in the world, and India has been upholding independent diplomatic policy. India will make up its diplomatic policies based on its own interests.” However, the spokesperson made clear that China would raise the issue during Indian defence minister’s two-day visit to Beijing from April 18.

The US has been largest arms supplier to India over the last four years. Washington has bagged Indian arms contracts worth over USD 14 billion since 2007. The two countries also hold several military exercises every year. Currently, the Indian Air Force fighters and aircraft are on their way to Alaska for taking part in Red Flag exercise from April 28. Also, the Indian, US and Japanese warships will conduct Malabar exercise off Okinawa in June.

Koushik Das, based in the Indian capital of New Delhi, is a senior news editor with more than 15 years of experience. He also runs a blog - Boundless Ocean of Politics. E-Mail: [email protected]