US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will visit India next week for the 2+2 dialogue between the two countries to be held on October 26-27 in New Delhi. The dialogue will take place between the defence and foreign ministers of the nations.
Seeking to build close ties amid an ongoing conflict with China, India and the US are expected to sign the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) for geospatial cooperation during the dialogue.
Pompeo will also visit Sri Lanka and the Maldives, as America seeks to balance China’s growing influence in the region. Pompeo will hold talks in Colombo on October 28, cabinet spokesman and minister Keheliya Rambukwella said. Rambukwella said Pompeo’s visit will focus on the travel bubble arrangement in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The foreign ministry officials said the US Secretary of State will travel to the Maldives after Sri Lanka.
The BECA deal is the third foundational agreement to be signed between India and the US after the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement and the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement in 2016 and 2018 respectively. “The BECA is expected to be signed during the meeting between US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Mark Esper on October 26-27 with their Indian counterparts including External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh. The agreement will ensure that the armed forces of the two countries start talking to each other on enhancing geospatial cooperation,” government sources told news agency ANI.
ANI sources said on October 19 that the negotiations between both the sides on this agreement had been completed some time ago and after the clearance by the government, it is ready to be signed during the dialogue. It is believed that the signing of BECA and the follow-up arrangements between the sides will allow India to use American inputs on geospatial intelligence and to enhance military accuracy of automated hardware systems and weapons like cruise, ballistic missiles and drones.
India and the US have been working very closely in the field of defence and security as India has acquired equipment worth around USD 20 billion from there in the last 15 years including the C-17 Globemasters and the C-130J Super Hercules Special Operations transport aircraft which have become the mainstays of the Indian Air Force`s heavy-lift fleet.
In the field of choppers also, the American Chinook heavy-lift and Apache attack helicopters have come as force multipliers for the armed forces. The Army is also using the Ultra Light Howitzers from the US while the Navy has also recently opted for the American MH-60 Romeo anti-submarine warfare multirole choppers for its requirements.
The two sides are also going to hold regular military exercises with the Army set to hold the `Yudh Abhyas` and `Vajra Prahar` with American troops early next year while the Navy is going to take part in the Malabar series exercise in November in the Indian Ocean with the Australian and Japanese Navies also set to participate.
Pompeo’s visit to Sri Lanka comes two weeks after a high-powered Chinese delegation led by ruling Communist Party Politburo member Yang Jiechi visited Colombo. China is one of the biggest investors in various infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka. But there has been criticism, both locally and internationally, and growing concerns that China has lured Sri Lanka into a debt trap.
The previous Maithripala Sirisena government had entered into a 99-year lease with China in 2017 as a settlement of its debt by way of equity. Sri Lanka’s economy, especially the tourism sector, has been hit hard since last year – initially by the Easter Sunday attacks, which killed over 250 people and later by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The Reserve Bank of India in July this year signed necessary documents for extending a USD 400 million currency swap facility to Sri Lanka to boost the nation’s draining foreign exchange reserves due to the coronavirus pandemic. The currency swap arrangement will remain available till November 2022.