India's presence in Asia-Pacific region important: US

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Washington, Aug 31: With New Delhi signing a historic defence logistics agreement with Washington, the US has described India's presence in the Asia-Pacific region as "important" in the backdrop of China's disputes in the South China Sea region.

"Discussing tensions in the Asia Pacific region is something that's not uncommon when we're meeting our Indian counterparts, and there's certainly a lot there because India is -- India does have a purpose and a presence in the Pacific that's important," US State Department spokesperson John Kirby said in his daily press briefing here on Tuesday.

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Kirby's remarks followed the Second India-US Strategic and Commercial Dialogue co-chaired by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and US Secretary of State John Kerry in New Delhi.

India and the US signed an agreement on sharing military logistics, in a major step forward in closer bilateral defence cooperation.

The Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (Lemoa) was inked here by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar during his latest visit to the US, and his US counterpart Defence Secretary Ashton Carter.

The agreement, viewed as part of the Obama administration's pivot to Asia strategy, was criticised by a leading Chinese state-run English daily, warning that New Delhi might irritate Beijing if it "joins the US alliance system".

"If India hastily joins the US alliance system, it may irritate China, Pakistan or even Russia," the Global Times said in an editorial.

"It may not make India feel safer, but will bring strategic troubles to itself and make itself a centre of geopolitical rivalries in Asia," it added.

Asked about China's reaction to the new US-India defence agreement, Kirby said that ties between Washington and New Delhi were not only good for the two countries but for the world as well.

"Broadly speaking, a deepening, stronger, more cooperative bilateral relationship with India is nothing that anybody should fear or worry about," he said.

"We both are democracies; we both have incredible opportunities and influence on the global stage, and a better relationship between the US and India is not just good for our two countries, not just good for the region, it's good for the world."

Last month, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) under the UN Convention for the Law of the Seas (Unclos) in The Hague ruled in favour of the Philippines in its dispute against China over the South China Sea.

India recognised the authority of the PCA and asked all parties to abide by its ruling.

An international arbitration tribunal in the PCA ruled on July 12 that China violated the Philippines' rights in the South China Sea, one of the busiest commercial shipping routes in the world.

The court accused China of interfering with the Philippines' fishing and petroleum exploration, building artificial islands in the waters and failing to prevent Chinese fishermen from fishing in the zone.

The tribunal held that fishermen from the Philippines had traditional fishing rights in Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea and that China had interfered with these rights by restricting their access.

The court held that Chinese law enforcement vessels unlawfully created a serious risk of collision when they physically obstructed Philippine vessels in the region.

China is locked in disputes over the Spratly and Paracel groups of islands in the South China Sea with other countries of the region.

The US stand on India's role in the Asia-Pacific region comes ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's expected visit to Vietnam, another country Beijing has disputes with, on his way to China for the G20 Summit early September.

Vietnam has appreciated India's position on the PCA ruling.

After Tuesday's bilateral Strategic and Commercial Dialogue in New Delhi, Sushma Swaraj said India and the US have decided to strengthen their cooperation in the area of maritime security.

IANS

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