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India presents China with two-front problem, says US Navy chief

India has hosted the Yudh Abhyas exercise in Uttarakhand before, including in 2014, 2016 and 2018, held over 300 km from the China boundary

New Delhi: United States Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mike Gilday has said that India will be a crucial partner for America in the future, playing a key role in countering China.

This remark comes as the idea that the border clashes between India and China in the Himalayas pose a two-front problem for Beijing has been gaining traction among US strategists, the Japanese newspaper Nikkei Asia reported. During an in-person seminar in Washington, America’s highest-ranking Navy officer on Thursday that he has spent more time on a trip to India than with any other country as he considers New Delhi to be a strategic partner for the US in the future.

Referring to his five-day visit to India last year, Admiral Gilday said, “The Indian Ocean battlespace is becoming increasingly more important for us. The fact that India and China currently have a bit of a skirmish along their border … it’s strategically important.”

“They now force China to not only look east, toward the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait, but they now have to be looking over their shoulder at India,” Admiral Gilday said during the event hosted by the Heritage Foundation.

Back in June, when the leaders of the Quad were meeting in Japan, former Pentagon official Elbridge Colby told Nikkei Asia that while India would not directly contribute in a local battle over Taiwan, it could draw China’s attention to the Himalayan border.

“What the United States and Japan need India to do is to be as strong as possible in South Asia and effectively draw Chinese attention so that they have a major second-front problem,” said Colby, the principal author of the 2018 National Defence Strategy under former President Donald Trump.

India, in the meantime, draws the same benefit from China’s difficulties in facing a strong US-Japan alliance around Taiwan, he said.

Against this backdrop, a planned joint mountaintop exercise between the US and India in October is seen as underscoring the potential second front for China, according to Nikkei Asia. The annual joint exercise Yudh Abhyas, which translates to “War Practice,” will be held in the Indian state of Uttarakhand from October 18 to 31.

While India has hosted the Yudh Abhyas exercise in Uttarakhand before, including in 2014, 2016 and 2018, those drills were all held in the foothills, over 300 km from the China boundary.

This year’s drills would take place at an altitude of over 3,000 meters in Uttarakhand’s Auli region, less than 100 km from the Line of Actual Control — the de facto border between India and China, reported Nikkei Asia.

Earlier this year, columnist Brahma Chellaney wrote in Nikkei Asia that Indian activities in the Himalayas could help Taiwan’s defence.

It would be “tying down a complete Chinese theatre force, which could otherwise be employed against the island,” Chellaney argued while adding that such a two-front strategy must be coordinated with the US.