US on China’s opposition to ‘Yudh Abhyas’ exercise with India

The US on Friday rejected China’s opposition to an India-US joint military exercise near the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Uttarakhand, asserting that it is “none of their business”.

Ambassador Elizabeth Jones, the newly-appointed US Charge d’Affaires to New Delhi, also said that Washington will support New Delhi’s efforts to become more capable in dealing with regional security challenges and that Washington sees its ties with New Delhi as one of our “most consequential relationships”.

On the meeting between US President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on the margins of the G20 Summit in Bali last month, Jones said it doesn’t signal a rapprochement between the two sides and that the US is committed to the Indo-Pacific.

The American diplomat also said that the depth of the Indo-US relationship allows Washington to have a frank discussion with New Delhi on social challenges.

When asked about China’s objection to the India-US military exercise in Auli in Uttarakhand, Jones said “I think I would point it to the kind of statements that we heard from our Indian colleagues to the effect that it is really none of their business.” The over two-week mega military exercise “Yudh Abhyas” that took place at a military facility around 100 km from the LAC concluded on Friday.

On Wednesday, the Chinese foreign ministry opposed the “Yudh Abhyas” exercise at Auli in Uttarakhand, claiming that it violates border agreements signed by China and India in 1993 and 1996.

“Military exercise in Auli has got nothing to do with the 1993 and 1996 agreements,” external affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi told a weekly media briefing in response to questions on the position taken by China.

Bagchi also said that “India exercises with whomsoever it chooses to and it does not give a Veto to third countries on this issue.” The 1993 agreement pertains to maintaining peace and tranquillity along the LAC with China in the India-China Border Areas, while the 1996 pact was about confidence-building measures in the military field along the LAC with China in the India-China Border Areas.

To a separate question on how the US can help India to deal with an aggressive China, Jones said “It is something for India to talk about.” “Our interest is in supporting India’s efforts to become more capable and to ensure that its capacities are directed in ways they believe to be important. It is up to the Indian leadership to determine what it wants and what it needs, and we are there to be supportive,” she said.

Jones said Washington sees a natural partnership between India and the US and that the defence cooperation between the two sides was on an upswing.

She said the US is also focusing on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s desire to increase defence production as part of the Make in India initiative, adding American defence companies are interested in participating in co-production initiatives.

“There are constant conversations, meetings and exercises to assure that we have a good understanding of the capabilities of each other and a good understanding of how we might be able to cooperate,” she said.

On last month’s Xi-Biden meeting in Bali, Jones said it was about having conversations on issues that the US and China fundamentally disagree on.

“I wouldn’t look at this as a way to worry about the US-India relationship…or the US attitude about the Indo-Pacific. We are as committed to our goals in the Indo-Pacific region as we ever have been,” Jones said.

On issues relating to social challenges, she said, “In the US, the treatment of ethnic, racial and religious minorities attracts a lot of attention, just as it does here (India).” “We can learn from each other on how to promote tolerant behaviour among diverse communities because we have similar experiences and similar challenges in those social areas,” Jones said.

“This is a conversation we have perpetually with our Indian colleagues,” she added.

Jones said one of the benefits of the “consequential relationship” is that a great variety of easy as well as difficult issues could be discussed. “We have been discussing this for a long time and we will continue to do so,” she said.

Jones said the natural partnership between India and the US in areas of defence and climate change among others was important to help deal with various challenges and catalyse global solutions to problems.

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