Washington, Feb 11: The US and India have taken no decision on conducting joint naval patrols, the Pentagon today said but stressed the two countries were exploring ways to expand defence their ties, amid reports that the naval patrols may include the disputed South China Sea.
The response from Defence Department spokesman Commander Bill Urban came as media reports suggested that India and the US recently held talks about conducting joint naval patrols in areas that may include the disputed South China Sea.
"On the matter of joint patrols, no decisions have been made and we do not have any additional details to provide at this time," Urban told PTI.
"The United States and India continue to explore ways to deepen our defense cooperation, including in the area of maritime security," Urban said, without giving the details of the areas likely to be covered under the proposition.
The Department of Defence and India's Ministry of Defence prioritised cooperation over maritime security in the "Framework for the US-India Defence Relationship" signed by Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter and his Indian counterpart Manohar Parrikar in June 2015.
"We continue to work with our Indian counterparts on how and where to expand engagement in this area," Urban said. In recent years, India and the US have ramped up their military ties.
They held naval exercises in the Indian Ocean last year, that also involved the Japanese navy.
The response also came in the backdrop of an assertive China, whose recent actions in the disputed South China Sea have left many nations, including Vietnam and the Philippines who have rival claims in the region, worried about security.
Yesterday James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence said that regional tension will continue as "China pursues construction at its expanded outposts in the South China Sea and because competing claimants might pursue actions that others perceive as infringing on their sovereignty."
The US accused that recent Chinese actions of building artificial islands in the disputed area has threatened freedom of navigation in the region through which more than USD 5 trillion in world trade passes every year.
China this month accused the US of seeking maritime hegemony after a US Navy destroyer sailed within 12 nautical miles of a disputed island in the Paracel chain of the South China Sea.