South China Sea: US and India join forces against Beijing in high-level talks breakthrough

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Ministers from both countries met in India’s capital New Delhi this week in a ‘two plus two’ meeting. It is only the third time the US and India have held meetings at such a high level, the US Department of Defense said.

The meeting follows a strengthening relationship between the two huge economies, including military cooperation.

It also comes as both nations continue to experience tensions with China.

This year, many soldiers were killed after Indian and Chinese forces clashed at the disputed Line of Actual Control boundary between the two countries.

They are currently holding repeated talks between military commanders in an effort to diffuse the situation.

Meanwhile, China and the US have issued sharp rhetoric over the South China Sea, where both have held military drills as the US vows to push back against what it sees as illegal Chinese actions there.

After a meeting between US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper, India’s Minister of Defence Rajnath Singh and Minister of External Affairs Dr. S. Jaishankar, a joint statement was issued.

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It read: “The Ministers reiterated their commitment to maintaining a free, open, inclusive, peaceful, and prosperous Indo-Pacific built on a rules-based international order, underpinned by ASEAN centrality, rule of law, sustainable and transparent infrastructure investment, freedom of navigation and overflight, mutual respect for sovereignty, and peaceful resolution of disputes.

“Highlighting the importance of securing the economic and security interests of all stakeholders having a legitimate interest in the region, the Ministers welcomed the growing understanding on the Indo-Pacific among like-minded countries.

“They reaffirmed that closer US-India cooperation will support shared interests in promoting security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond.

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“They also emphasized that the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea should not prejudice the legitimate rights and interests of any nation in accordance with international law.”

In addition, Mr Pompeo and Mr Esper met with Narendra Modi, India’s Prime Minister, to discuss various issues.

The diplomats said they “welcomed the warm and close relationship between our countries”.

They also discussed subjects including the Indo-Pacific, defence co-operation, and COVID-19.

Mr Modi also vowed to strengthen the US -India Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership.

The Indian Prime Minister has spoken of this partnership before, including this year when US President Donald Trump travelled to the country for a state visit.

On the state visit, Mr Modi hailed “the most important partnership of the 21st century”. It is unclear what the exact terms of the partnership are, however.

Of Mr Pompeo’s talks in India, China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin said yesterday: “We urge him to discard the Cold War zero-sum mentality, stop hyping up the so-called ‘China threat’, and stop the misguided efforts to sow discord between regional countries and undermine regional peace and stability.”

Mr Wenbin added China “firmly opposes” the US’ recent sale of 100 Harpoon Coastal Defense Systems to Taiwan.

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