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US-India, China-Russia Exercises Reflect New Alliances

The US and Indian armies are presently conducting joint exercises in the mountainous state of Uttarakhand, about 100 kilometers from India’s border with China. This is the 12th edition of the Yudh Abhyas drill, and it has never been held in such close proximity to the People’s Republic.

Soldiers often train in regions where conflict is considered most likely to develop. With that in mind, Uttarakhand was not a bad choice. Last July, Chinese troops crossed the border into that state – a border that has been relatively free of such transgressions over the years. Indian defense planners have reason to be alert because the state, which has a 350-kilometer boundary with China, is not far from New Delhi.

Militaries also train with nations with which they expect to ally. As Nitin Gokhale of the Bharat Shakti website, “Indian troops, now across the three services, do more exercises with the United States than with any other country.”

Indian and American officials have issued bland statements about the joint exercise, but Indian commentators have not been subtle. “There is no question of China being the focus, it is only because of geographical features and logistics that the region around Ranikhet was chosen for this long-planned exercise,” said “authoritative sources” to the Sunday Guardian, the New Delhi newspaper.

“With a trilateral joint exercise called Malabar involving Indian, US, and Japanese navies in June this year, India has sent a strong message to China that it would not allow any country to control the South China Sea,” the paper itself warned. “Yudh Abhyas is an extension of the same message of freedom from fear of threat by forces inimical to democracy and forces backing terrorism.

“Forces backing terrorism” is a reference to China, which has supported Pakistani-backed insurgents and terrorists operating on Indian soil. Beijing’s aggressive posture, including frequently sending the People’s Liberation Army across the Indian border, has pushed New Delhi toward Washington. As a result, the two countries are deepening their security ties, and, as Prime Minister Modi said this year, India and the US are shedding the “hesitations of history.”

The shedding process, now roughly two decades in the making, looks complete. Beijing’s recent opposition to India’s membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group, according to Cleo Paskal of Chatham House, “pretty much killed off any remaining support for China in the Indian establishment.” That she says, has given the Indian defense community the confidence to fully embrace the US.

For its part, Washington has fully embraced New Delhi. India’s new outlook permits Washington, in Paskal’s words, to view that country “as the stable partner it has been looking for in the Indian Ocean—and possibly even in the Indo-Pacific.”

And in the Indo-Pacific, Russia has begun to show enthusiasm for its new partner, China, demonstrating that the Kremlin has joined the other side.  Joint Sea 2016, which runs from September 12th to the 19th, is a particularly provocative China-Russia drill.  According to Chinese state media, the two navies will conduct “island-seizing” missions in the South China Sea.

This exercise is the fifth China-Russia naval drills since 2012. The two militaries, on land and sea, now regularly train with each other, and Moscow and Beijing are coordinating their Asia policies, even on China’s sea claims.

Beijing often complains about America’s “lingering Cold-War mentality.” At the end of that multi-decade struggle, China and the US stood against the Soviet Union and India.

Today, the great powers have realigned. And fortunately for the region—and the world—two great democracies are finally working together.

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