The US does not want a recurrence of Doka La between India and China that saw an escalation of tension last year for over two months triggering fears of a border clash.
Raising concerns over the fallout of such border disputes, US defence attachÃ© Brigadier-General David E Brigham told reporters in Guwahati that all differences between the two countries must be resolved amicably. "But what is worrying about Chinese behaviour is its use of coercion. The US policy has been to recognise the McMahon Line as the border between the two countries," Brigham said. He was accompanied by Consul-General Craig Hall and other officials on a tour to Assam and Meghalaya in order to explore areas of engagement and cooperation in the North East.
The US reaction to the Doka La crisis last year that dragged on for as many as 72 days was reserved and calculated. This was interpreted by some observers as a middle-path since both India and China have pivotal roles for the US on issues ranging from trade and military to the strategic.
India adopted a rigid stance on Doka La since a greater Chinese presence in the region could be hazardous for the sensitive and narrow Siliguri corridor that connects the North East to the mainland. Besides, a conciliatory gesture by New Delhi on the issue could have sent wrong messages since India is a virtual security guarantor of Bhutan.
At the same time, India and the US share concerns about the increasing spread of China's influence in Asia which could pose a threat to regional security. Ties between the two countries have also been moving on an upward trajectory for the past few years and especially after then US secretary of state Leon Panetta's visit to New Delhi in 2012, which was followed by the arrival of former president Barack Obama as the chief guest for Republic Day in 2016.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to the US last year resulted in the signing of many agreements including a joint-statement that pulled up Pakistan for allowing its territory to be used as a safe haven by terrorist outfits. The two countries also resolved to strengthen their partnership in the Indo-Pacific region.
The US delegation also welcomed the outcome of the two-day summit between Modi and President Xi Jinping at Wuhan where India and China seem to have arrived at a broad understanding on how to improve ties. Both the leaders had stressed upon the need to maintain peace and tranquility along the border region and the militaries were asked to strengthen communication and implement confidence-building measures.
Hall explained that besides India, Japan and Australia were the other partners of a "shared vision" in the Indo-Pacific region which means supporting "good governance and liberty, promote market-based economics, ensure the freedom of the seas and sky and insulate sovereign nations from external coercion".
Efforts are also on to clinch more important agreements between the two countries, the delegates revealed, with the goal to develop a "defence ecosystem in India" that will entail the transfer of technology. They said the US wanted India to be an "exporter of defence and regional security."
"But all these changes will take time since around 70 percent of India's military infrastructure is of Russian origin," Brigham explained.
The delegates' visit to the region is continuation of the US government's efforts to build a sustained engagement in north Bengal and the North East. They held wide-ranging discussions on disaster management with Assam chief secretary TY Das after a meeting with the state police chief Kuladhar Saikia. In Meghalaya, they visited the North East Police Academy (NEPA) after interacting with top government officials in Shillong.