EXCLUSIVE: China concerned by US-India surveillance drones deal

China is keenly watching the defence agreements set to be inked by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump in Washington on Monday, with particular attention on the deal for surveillance drones that would boost India’s capabilities in the Indian Ocean, Chinese experts have said.

The agreement for around 22 unarmed surveillance drones is among the agreements on the agenda, while a deal for co-producing F-16 fighter aircraft was also finalised before the visit between Lockheed Martin and Tata.

Han Hua, a leading Chinese strategist who is Director of the Center for Arms Control and Professor at the School of International Studies at Peking University, told India Today: “Some people in China are a little concerned. Still, it is not the most advanced technology being shared for example when you look at the F-16s. But that is only one issue of defence cooperation. There is also the transfer of surveillance drones in the Indian Ocean. It will increase India’s capability to have a view over the entire Indian Ocean. That is more symbolic than the F-16 joint production.”

CHINA CLOSELY WATCHING OUTCOMES ::

China is closely following the outcomes of the visit. As in Delhi, there was some concern in Beijing following Trump’s election considering his unpredictability, although Chinese President Xi Jinping had a surprisingly cordial visit to the US, where he was welcomed at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.

Han Hua said, “I think the US-India relationship has an impact on the China-US relations. After the Bush administration opened the door to India, people in Washington have been talking about India’s role in checking China’s rise. Especially after the nuclear deal in 2005, the relationship between Washington and New Delhi has emerged as a concern among Chinese strategists. Especially the nuclear deal, as it’s not just a nuclear deal. It is a more symbolic way to show the nature of the strategic partnership between US and India. In that sense, China is concerned.”

AT THE SAME TIME, BEIJING NOT OVERLY CONCERNED ::

At the same time, one reason Beijing is not overly concerned is that in its view, ahead of India on the agenda for Trump is dealing with North Korea. “The Trump administration cannot solve the North Korea problem by itself. Maybe China provide a kind of solution. As many Americans think, China has a high stake in that issue,” said Han.

Han, who is also a leading expert on nuclear issues, also said she wasn’t sure if Trump would do the heavy-lifting required to push India’s membership to the Nuclear Suppliers Group. “We haven’t witnessed any specific policy change on NSG after the Trump administration in terms of India’s membership. Some people have said the administration supports the membership but a strong statement hasn’t been made yet in that issue,” she said.

In China, many experts see the Modi government crafting a much closer relationship with the US and deepening defence ties, but at the same time do not expect India to become an ally as in the case of Japan or even the Philippines.

“I think my conviction is India in terms of foreign policy independence that is very well entrenched in the country no matter who is the ruling party.” said Han. “Modi, people tend to think is more nationalist or takes a very realistic view on the world rather than the middle-line policies taken by Congress. In my sense, India is still a country with its own pride and glory so I don’t think India will go very far from the current foreign policy decision-making. Some people say Modi has already been quite close to the US in strategic terms but for me that trend will go a little bit further but not far beyond the general non-alignment policy.”

By: IndiaToday

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