U.S. Strengthens Presence In Southeast Asia

India and the U.S. last week launched a joint initiative on critical and emerging technologies (iCET). This was discussed in Tokyo back in May 2022 at the Quadrilateral Dialogue summit. Now the signing took place in Washington just after the U.S.-India Business Forum.

The meeting was reportedly preceded by tweets from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and U.S. President Joe Biden, reflecting an agreement on the two sides’ strategic, commercial and scientific approaches to technology.

On January 31, 2023, the first iCET meeting was held in Washington, D.C., hosted by the two countries’ national security advisers Jake Sullivan and Ajit Doval. On the part of the U.S. there was also the administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the director of the National Science Foundation, the executive secretary of the National Space Council, and senior officials from the Department of State, Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, and the National Security Council. On the Indian part there were the Indian Ambassador to the United States, the Chief Science Advisor to the Government of India, the Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization, the Secretary of the Department of Telecommunications, the Science Advisor to the Secretary of Defense, the Director General of the Defense Research and Development Organization, high-ranking officials from the Department of Electronics and Information Technology and the Secretariat of the National Security Council.

According to the White House webside, “The two sides discussed opportunities for greater cooperation in critical and emerging technologies, co-development and coproduction, and ways to deepen connectivity across our innovation ecosystems. They noted the value of establishing “innovation bridges” in key sectors, including through expos, hackathons, and pitch sessions. They also identified the fields of biotechnology, advanced materials, and rare earth processing technology as areas for future cooperation”.

In recent years, cooperation between India and the U.S. has grown rapidly in all spheres, from trade and economic deals to military exercises and intelligence exchanges. The two sides have their own reasons for deepening such cooperation – the U.S. has an interest in containing China by proxy, as well as keeping an eye on Pakistan, which from time to time shows a zeal for autonomy. Both countries pose threats to India, so New Delhi’s external support is in the Indian leadership’s interest.

In this regard, U.S. Undersecretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks told Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval that “building alliances and partnerships are a top priority” for the Pentagon, in what she said was “the region’s increasingly contested strategic environment,” according to a Defense Department statement. Hicks said building the partnerships was a major objective of the US’ 2022 National Defense Strategy, which calls China a “growing multi-domain threat.”

However, one can read between the lines other U.S. intentions, as officially the threat to the United States is not only China, but also the DPRK, Iran and Russia. The latter two are key partners for India. It is clear that Washington expects to gradually reduce India’s cooperation with these countries. And technological cooperation is a serious step in this process, because we are talking about dual-use technologies, 5G/6G communications and other important sectors such as space.

The following was noted directly in defense technology:

– Development of a new bilateral defense-industrial cooperation roadmap to accelerate technological cooperation between the two countries for joint development and production, with an initial focus on exploring projects related to jet engines, munitions-related technologies, and other systems.

– Notice is given that the United States has received an application from General Electric for joint production of jet engines that could power jet aircraft operated and manufactured by India. The United States is committed to a prompt review of this application.

– Strengthening long-term research and development collaboration with a focus on identifying operational options for maritime security and intelligence surveillance systems.

– Launching a new “innovation bridge” that would connect U.S. and Indian defense startups.

Obviously, such cooperation will significantly reduce India’s interest in Russian weapons systems, which have been in demand in New Delhi for decades. It is also indicative that earlier India had tried to close on the defense sector into the domestic market and encourage domestic manufacturers to create their own authentic weapons. However, this reversal indicates New Delhi’s real preferences, despite talk of neutrality (the country is formally a member of the Non-Aligned Movement) and partnership with U.S. opponents.

On the same day, the U.S. Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) and the Indian Electronics and Semiconductor Association (IESA) jointly announced plans to form a private-sector task force that will strengthen collaboration between the two countries in the global semiconductor ecosystem.

Specific goals are specified:

– Developing a “readiness assessment” regarding the semiconductor ecosystem in India.

– Assembling industry, government, and academic stakeholders to identify near-term industry opportunities and facilitate longer-term strategic development of complementary semiconductor ecosystems.

– Making recommendations on opportunities and challenges to increase India’s role within the global semiconductor value chain, including chip manufacturing.

– Identifying and facilitating workforce development and exchange opportunities to benefit both countries.

SIA President John Neuffer noted that “India is already a major hub for semiconductor research, chip design, and equipment engineering, but its future potential is even greater. This task force will help identify tangible ways to unlock this potential by increasing collaboration between the U.S. and India within the global chip ecosystem”.

And IESA President Krishna Murthy remarked that “it will be an important platform to bring together global resources to identify actionable plans to support India to increase its presence in the world-wide chip industry and then enable global collaboration to execute the plans across all segments of the design and manufacturing supply chain, as well as creating semiconductor talent for the world.”

A new task force to deepen education and research collaboration with India has been established under the auspices of the Association of American Universities. And it signals a long-term U.S. interest in cooperating with India.

But the initiative reflects Washington’s interest in strengthening its presence not only in India, but also in the Southeast Asian region through partners and allies.

Last week, for example, the United States and the Philippines announced plans to expand the U.S. military presence in the country with access to four more bases. And explicitly cited was a desire to “deter China’s increasingly aggressive actions against Taiwan and in the disputed South China Sea”. The agreement was reached during a visit by U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.

In a joint statement, the Philippines and the U.S. it is said that they decided to accelerate full implementation of their so-called Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which aims to support joint training, exercises and interoperability. According to the statement, under the agreement, the U.S. has allocated $82 million for infrastructure improvements at five existing installations and expanded its military presence to four new installations in “strategic areas of the country”.

The Philippine Constitution prohibits the permanent stationing of foreign troops and their participation in local hostilities. However, we can see that Washington is finding loopholes for its military presence in the region.

In October 2022, the U.S. already held joint exercises with the Philippine military.

On January 31, it was also revealed that the U.S. would increase the deployment of advanced weapons such as fighter jets and bombers to South Korea to enhance joint exercises with South Korean forces in response to North Korea’s “growing nuclear threat”.

U.S. military-technological expansion is expected to continue. And it is obvious that an appropriate balance will be needed. Active military cooperation between Russia, China and Iran in Central America and the Caribbean could be such a balance.


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