Checking China’s Naval Ambitions from the Air

In his WPR column on Wednesday, David Axe discussed the budding American-Chinese naval rivalry in the South China Sea-Indian Ocean. He called particular attention to the role India plays in American plans to check China’s naval ambitions in the region.

Interesting to note, then, that four days after the USNS Impeccable incident off of Hainan Island, the State Dept. informed Congress it would license the sale of eight Boeing P-8I long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft to . . . drumroll, please . . . India.

The $2.1 billion contract, which I flagged two months ago, is the largest U.S. weapons transfer to India to date, providing planes that are intended for “anti-submarine warfare; search and rescue; maritime interdiction; andlong-range intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition andreconnaissance.”

Two months ago, I called the deal evidence that the Bush administration saw India through its China lens. Sam Rogeeveen took me to task at the time, saying that’s certainly not how the Indians see things. But Washington does seem to have trouble formulating a U.S.-India relationship that isn’t based on instrumentalizing India for the purposes of American interests elsewhere, whether in Afghanistan or China. This seems like another step in that direction, and an inauspicious beginning to U.S.-India relations under the Obama administration.