The United States and India have held talks about conducting joint naval patrols that a US defence official said could include the disputed South China Sea, a move that would likely anger Beijing.
Washington wants its regional allies and other Asian nations to take a more united stance against China over the South China Sea, where tensions have spiked in the wake of Beijing’s construction of seven man-made islands in the Spratly archipelago.
India and the United States have ramped up military ties in recent years, holding naval exercises in the Indian Ocean that last year involved the Japanese navy. But the Indian navy has never carried out joint patrols with another country and a naval spokesman said there was no change in the government’s policy of only joining an international military effort under the United Nations flag. He pointed to India’s refusal to be part of anti-piracy missions involving dozens of countries in the Gulf of Aden and instead carrying out its own operations there since 2008. The US defence official said the two sides had discussed joint patrols, adding that both were hopeful of launching them within the year.
The patrols would likely be in the Indian Ocean where the Indian navy is a major player as well as the South China Sea, the official said in New Delhi on condition of anonymity. A Pentagon spokesman, Commander Bill Urban, said the United States and India “continue to explore ways to deepen defence cooperation, including in the area of maritime security”, but no decisions had been made on joint patrols. There was no immediate comment from China, which is on a week-long holiday for Chinese New Year. China accused Washington this month of seeking maritime hegemony in the name of freedom of navigation after a US Navy destroyer sailed within 12 nautical miles of a disputed island in the Paracel chain of the South China Sea in late January. The US Navy conducted a similar exercise in October near one of China’s artificial islands in the Spratlys.