Holding the Indo-US 2+2 dialogue just a week before the US presidential election and when Chinese troops are massed in Ladakh sends a strong diplomatic message to China. That this dialogue followed the Tokyo Quad dialogue and inclusion of Australia in the Malabar exercise next month in the Indian Ocean tells China that its muscle-flexing in the Indo-Pacific will not go unchallenged. Secretary of State Pompeo’s travels to Sri Lanka, Maldives and Indonesia after New Delhi reinforces that message further.

Pompeo made no bones publicly in New Delhi about anti-China concerns contributing to expanding India-US ties. China wants to dominate Asia as a springboard to challenging US global power.

India is the only Asian country that can stand up to China, even if there are disparities in power, as the current stand-off in Ladakh shows. But curbing China’s expansionism, which spans the whole of the Indo-Pacific from East Africa to the Pacific Islands, requires a more collective effort, which is why the Quad is important, association of some ASEAN countries with it like Indonesia and Vietnam is the way forward, as is the participation of European powers like France and potentially Germany and the UK. India’s own efforts in its maritime neighbourhood can be supplemented by US diplomacy to wean it away from over dependency on China. Which is why instead of any concerns about US activism in our so-called “backyard”, we should look at it constructively.

The Chinese embassy in New Delhi has issued a statement, condemning Pompeo’s anti-China allegations, violation of the norms of international relations and basic principles of diplomacy, instigation of regional countries against China, and America’s ideological bias. This is almost comical as China violates international law brazenly by making unilateral sovereignty claims, the conduct of its ambassadors abroad is diplomatically gross, we see it instigating our neighbours against us and it flaunts its anti-democratic socialist ideology with Chinese characteristics. The embassy claims rather pompously that “the leadership of the Communist Party of China is a choice of history”.

Pompeo plugging the China threat and the need to deter it, citing Galwan and US support of India as a force multiplier, served our purpose in warning China of the risks of continued border confrontation, while allowing us to obfuscate the China angle and claim that the purpose of the 2+2 dialogue was for further developing India-US ties and was not China-related. The joint statement doesn’t mention China by name, but anti-China concerns are manifest in references to enhancement of supply chain resilience and search for alternatives to the current paradigm, freedom of navigation, overflight, respect for sovereignty, rules-based order, sustainable and transparent infrastructure investment, and a new call for the Code of Conduct to not prejudice the legitimate rights and interests of any nation.

The Basic Exchange Cooperation Agreement was the highlight of the 2+2 dialogue. With it, all the so-called foundational defence agreements have been concluded, paving the way of India obtaining access to highly advanced US military technologies. BECA will open doors for sharing satellite imagery and through terrain mapping enhance the accuracy of US supplied weaponry. To view expansion of defence ties as an India-US military alliance would be an exaggeration.

Undoubtedly, on Indo-Pacific issues, there is a more pronounced alliance of interests and views, with gains for each side. A military alliance, however, implies a more formal arrangement, a treaty that lays out the obligations of each side in a conflict situation. That is not on the anvil.