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US Official Reassures China on India Naval Discussions, Exercise

24 August 2007

Top defense officials and senior military brass from the United States, Japan and Australia are in New Delhi this week ahead of a multinational naval exercise in the Bay of Bengal. VOA's Steve Herman reports from New Delhi that the activities are prompting speculation of an emerging alliance to contain China's expanding navy.

The discussions this week and naval exercises next month are billed by participants as part of efforts to enhance cooperation to combat marine piracy and terrorism.

But they leave out the other significant power in Asian-Pacific waters: China.

The United States is sending 13 warships, including two aircraft carriers - the Nimitz and the Kitty Hawk - to join India's Malabar naval exercise, which begins on September 4. About 70 fighter aircraft will also participate over the Bay of Bengal during the six days of war games. Japan is sending two frigates. Australia is dispatching a frigate and a tanker, and Singapore will send a naval frigate.

The commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, Navy Admiral Timothy Keating, says, however, Beijing should not view these activities as targeting China.

"As it happens, there are interests shared by the United States, Japan, Australia, India and others all throughout this region," he said. "There's no - let me emphasize no - effort on our part or any of those other countries' parts I'm sure to isolate China, to put them in the closet."

Keating said no formal four-way body is being formed.

It is a time of active military diplomacy however. The U.S. commander met with India's service chiefs and other officials on Thursday.

Japan's Defense Minister Yuriko Koike arrived here Friday, a day after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe concluded an official visit to India.

Earlier in the week, Australia's naval chief, Admiral Russ Shalders, met Indian military officers in New Delhi.

Meanwhile, China has announced its defense minister, Cao Gang-chuan, will go to Tokyo next week for the first visit by a high-level Chinese defense official there in nine years.

China has been cultivating naval cooperation with Bangladesh and Burma (Myanmar) to gain access to the Bay of Bengal. China has also been strengthening military cooperation with Sri Lanka and developing port and bunker facilities in the island nation.

These moves have raised concerns among Indian military officials about China's long-term intentions in those waters.

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