Just a week before the US elections 2020, the Trump administration made a smart move by sending the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Chief Mark Esper to Asia. They visited India, Maldives, Sri Lanka and some other Asian countries but India’s visit was the most important one for them unmistakably. This visit has come off as a clear anti-China indicator from both US and India amidst the rising Sino-Indian tensions from the past few months.
Mike Pompeo and Mark Esper met with their Indian Counterparts Defense Minister Rajnath Singh and the External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar on 26th October 2020. The representatives of India and USA signed a total of five agreements in their 2+2 ministerial dialogue but the most interesting out of the five agreements has to be the BECA agreement. BECA is basically an abbreviation for the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement.
The BECA will help its signatories to share high-end military technology, classified satellite data and critical information. It is going to assist India in getting a real-time access to American geospatial intelligence that will enhance the accuracy of automated systems and weapons like missiles and armed drones. India will also be acquiring access to topographical and aeronautical data and advanced products which will abet in navigation and targeting through the sharing of information on maps and satellite images.
BECA is going to be crucial for India because of the military aspects linked with it and a military magnification is what India needs the most right now. The newly signed agreement will give a better Air Force-To-Air Force cooperation between India and USA. Briefly stating, BECA will provide Indian military systems with a high-quality GPS to navigate missiles with real-time intelligence to precisely target the adversary. In addition to the sailing of ships, flying of aircraft, fighting of wars, and location of targets, geospatial intelligence is also critical to the response to natural disasters.
The BECA agreement flows along with three other important strategic agreements. The General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) was signed initially in 2002 which has been included as a key aspect to the BECA. The Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) signed in 2016 has been inked by USA and India as another important element within the BECA agreement. Lastly, the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) signed in 2018 has also been linked with the latest BECA agreement between India and US.
This agreement has come off as the latest link in the series of US-India military agreements in order to counter China’s increasing impact in the region. In this anti-China strategic visit, Mike Pompeo and Mark Esper also met with the Indian PM Narendra Modi and talked through Covid-19 response, security and defense cooperation, and shared interests in the Indo-Pacific region. These shared interests ostensibly included curbing the growing Chinese influence in this region.
With Donald Trump heading for a very tight competition with the former Vice-President Joe Biden on 3rd November 2020, this Mike Pompeo has sought to play on the Indian suspicions about China to shore up a regional front against Chinese assertiveness in the region. Just hours before Pompeo and Esper’s meetings began with their Indian counterparts, the Trump administration notified Congress of plans for a $2.37 billion sale of Harpoon missile systems to Taiwan which is the second major arms sale in two weeks to the island that China regards as a renegade province. China reacted to the first sale by announcing sanctions on U.S. defense contractors. All of these advancements surely have spiked the already worsening relations between China and India and China and USA.
This visit has come at the time of rising tensions between China and India after their border tensions rose in May 2020. Violence had broken out between Indian and Chinese troops in the Galwan Valley in Ladakh at the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Tussles have only sparked between both the countries ever since. The visit of Pompeo is very important for India because it is in a dire need of some might support. India is also at scuffle with Pakistan over the Kashmir conflict which has intensified after the revoking of Article 370 in August 2019. Since China-Pakistan relationships have strengthened in the past few years and China and India’s relationships have aggravated, USA’s support has come at a very crucial time for India and will prove quite beneficial.
For USA, the visit has been as equally important as it has been for India. Pompeo’s latest statements in the QUAD group meeting that took place in early October 2020 were also a direct message to China from USA. He had called upon Australia, Japan and India to cooperate strategically with USA in order to reduce China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific. USA has been making efforts to maintain its unipolarity and curbing China is one of its top most priorities in this context since China is the greatest threat to USA’s hegemony right now.
Furthermore, Pompeo also made visits to Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Indonesia, where he pressed each nation to push back against Chinese assertiveness, which U.S. officials complain is highlighted by predatory lending and development projects that benefit China more than the presumed recipients. The Chinese Embassy in Sri Lanka denounced Pompeo’s visit to the island even before he arrived there, denouncing a senior U.S. official’s warning that the country should be wary of Chinese investment. The Chinese Embassy said the comments were a blatant violation of diplomatic protocols and also chided the U.S. for organizing Pompeo’s 24-hour visit and imposing a major logistical burden on the country, which is the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
The latest military agreements between India and USA are being seen as a possible threat to the Chinese hegemony in the Indo-Pacific region. China is already loosing support and cooperation from the countries which are at conflict with China over the South China Sea. Pompeo’s visit has given an even graver threat to China that China has a long way to go before it can dominate the regional politics.