US and India begin 2+2 dialogue for strengthening military relationship


US secretary of state Mike Pompeo and defense secretary Mark T Esper arrived in India on Monday for the third edition of the 2+2 ministerial dialogue which is aimed at strengthening strategic ties in the face of growing Chinese influence across the region.

Pompeo and Esper will hold top-level 2+2 talks with external affairs minister S Jaishankar and defense minister Rajnath Singh on Tuesday, covering the entire expanse of defense and security ties as well as key regional and global issues.

The first edition of the 2+2 dialogue was held in Delhi in September 2018 after the mechanism was approved by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump.

The second edition of the dialogue took place in Washington in December last year. The new framework of the ministerial dialogue was initiated in order to provide a forward-looking vision for the strategic partnership between the two countries.

The two-day visit comes at a time when India is engaged in a bitter border standoff with China, with Pompeo indicating earlier that the dialogue is expected to focus on the “threats” posed by Beijing.

The trip is part of the latest US effort to bolster allies against an increasingly assertive China, which has been making political and military inroads across Asia, analysts say.

Pompeo is also due to travel to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, two Indian Ocean countries where China has financed and built various infrastructure, to the alarm of India and the United States.

The two key officials of the Trump administration are also scheduled to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval.

In the last few months, the US has been ramping up attacks on China over a range of contentious issues including the border standoff with India, its military assertiveness in the South China Sea and the way Beijing handled the anti-government protests in Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, India has sought US cold weather equipment as the LAC showdown goes into the freezing Himalayan winter and officials said this could be raised during the talks.

It is expected that the two sides may finalize the long-pending BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement) agreement to further boost bilateral defense ties. The BECA will provide for sharing of high-end military technology, logistics and geospatial maps between the two countries.

According to the US government, India maintains the largest fleet of C-17 and P-8 aircraft outside of the US, and as of 2020, Washington has authorized more than $20 billion in defense sales to India.