India can be strategic partner by playing key role in countering China, says US Navy chief

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US Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mike Gilday has said India can be a strategic partner to the United States by playing an important role in countering China.

Gilday was speaking at a seminar hosted by the Heritage Foundation in Washington, reported Nikkei Asia.

“India presents China with a two-front problem. They now force China to not only look east, toward the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait, but they now have to be looking over their shoulder at India,” he said.

“I’ve spent more time on a trip to India than I have with any other country because I consider them to be a strategic partner for us in the future,” Gilday said.

Bringing up his five-day visit to India last October, he said, “The Indian Ocean battlespace is becoming increasingly more important for us. The fact that India and China currently have a bit of a skirmish along their border… it’s strategically important.”

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The fact that the border clashes in the Himalayas pose a two-front problem for Beijing has been gaining traction among US strategists, reported Nikkei Asia.

In June, as the leaders of the Quad, the US, Japan, India and Australia, were meeting in Japan, former Pentagon official Elbridge Colby told Nikkei Asia that while India would not directly contribute to a local battle over Taiwan, it could draw China’s attention to the Himalayan border.

“What the United States and Japan need India to do is to be as strong as possible in South Asia and effectively draw Chinese attention so that they have a major second-front problem,” said Colby, the principal author of the 2018 National Defense Strategy under former President Donald Trump.

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India, in the meantime, draws the same benefit from China’s difficulties in facing a strong US-Japan alliance around Taiwan, he said.

A planned joint mountaintop exercise between the US and India in October is being seen as a potential second front for China.

The annual joint exercise, Yudh Abhyas (War Practice) will be held in the South Asian nation’s Uttarakhand from October 18 to 31, reported Nikkei Asia.

India has hosted the Yudh Abhyas in Uttarakhand before in 2014, 2016 and 2018, but all those drills were held in the foothills, over 300 km from the Chinese boundary.

Local Indian media reports have said this year’s drills would take place at an altitude of over 3,000 meters in Uttarakhand’s Auli region, less than 100 km from the Line of Actual Control, reported Nikkei Asia.

In an opinion piece titled “India has a stake in Taiwan’s defence,” columnist Brahma Chellaney wrote in Nikkei Asia that Indian activities in the Himalayas could help Taiwan’s defence.

It would be “tying down a complete Chinese theatre force, which could otherwise be employed against the island,” he said.

But such a two-front strategy must be coordinated with the US, he added.

In Thursday’s seminar, Gilday said a potential fight against China will likely be trans-regional. “You just can’t think of China through the lens of the Indo-Pacific. You have to look at the Indian Ocean, you have to look at their Belt and Road, their economic connective tissue, which is now global,” he said. “You have to take a look at their vulnerabilities,” he said/

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