Washington: India and the US signed an agreement on sharing military logistics, in a major step forward in closer bilateral defence cooperation, though both sides clarified it will not involve setting up of military bases.
The Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) agreement was inked in Washington, by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar during his ongoing three-day visit to the US, and his US counterpart, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.
The agreement, viewed as part of the Obama administration's Pivot to Asia strategy, was criticised by a leading Chinese state-run daily, which warned that New Delhi may irritate Beijing if it "joins the US alliance system".
"If India hastily joins the US alliance system, it may irritate China, Pakistan or even Russia," the Global Times said in an editorial.
"It may not make India feel safer, but will bring strategic troubles to itself and make itself a centre of geopolitical rivalries in Asia," it added.
Concerns over the agreement have been voiced by political parties in India who say it will lead to the country being seen as a military ally of the US. However, some experts have welcomed the 'long delayed' agreement that has been in discussions since 2004.
While the Left parties criticised the move, saying it makes India formally an ally of the US, the Congress appeared more cautious with former Defence Minister AK Antony saying he would not comment before reading the agreement.
The LEMOA was "in principal" agreed on during Carter's visit to India in April.
A joint statement issued after the meeting of Parrikar and Carter said the LEMOA will facilitate additional opportunities for practical engagement and exchange.
Carter in his remarks, drew a comparison between the US' pivot to Asia and India's Act East Policy. "The United States is reaching west in President Obama's rebalance, India is reaching east in Prime Minister Modi's Act East policy, which will extend India's reach further into the broader Indo-Asia-Pacific region," he said.
Carter said the agreement will be a "very substantial enabler" for the two countries to work together.
Parrikar also clarified that the agreement will not involve in setting up bases.
"It does not have anything to do with setting up bases. It is for logistics support to each other ... Like supply of fuel, supply of any other things that are required for joint operations, humanitarian assistance and many other," he said.
The Indian Defence Ministry also took to Twitter to dispel fears regarding the agreement.
"LEMOA is a facilitating agreement that establishes terms, conditions, procedures for reciprocal provision of logistic support, supplies, service. Reciprocal logistic support would be used exclusively in port visits, joint exercises, joint training, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief," Defence Ministry tweeted from its official account.
It added that LEMOA does not create any obligations on either party to carry out any joint activity, does not provide for the establishment of any bases or basing arrangements, and significantly enhances operational capacity of our armed forces, including in response to humanitarian crises or disaster relief.
The Communist Party of India-Marxist said the agreement has given India the "formal status of a military ally of the US".
Congress, which had appeared to be putting off the agreement while in power, and vocally opposed it when India and US announced their 'in principle' agreement in April, made no response till Tuesday evening.
Contacted by IANS, former Defence Minister Antony said: "I will not comment unless I read the agreement."
Antony in April said the agreement will mark the end of India's "independence of India's foreign policy and strategic autonomy".
Some strategic experts dispelled the fear that the agreement will make India a US ally.
"This does not imply we become a US military ally. We are not obliged to provide support to any and every US military operation in the region," said strategic expert and Director of Society for Policy Studies C. Uday Bhaskar.
The US had first proposed an India specific logistics support agreement (LSA) in 2004 at the sixth meeting of the India-US Defence Policy Group.
It is a version of the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA), which the US has with several NATO nations, something that has raised concerns.
India has in the past provided logistic support to the US. During the 1990-91 Gulf War, the Chandra Shekhar government provided overflight rights to US planes, and even permitted refuelling, but revoked it after protests.
During the 2004 Tsunami, US support came handy with India lacking the capability to provide assistance to the affected areas. Experts say the agreement will aid such humanitarian assistance in future.