The Secretary of State referred directly to India-China clashes that killed 20 Indian soldiers in June when he said a visit to the National War Memorial in Delhi was “to honour the brave men and women of the Indian armed forces who sacrificed for the world's largest democracy”.
“The US will stand with the people of India as they confront threats to their sovereignty and to their liberty,” Mr Pompeo said at the end of two days of dialogue that also featured US Defence Secretary Mark Esper, their Indian counterparts and the Indian prime minister Narendra Modi.
Mr Pompeo and Mr Esper were in India primarily to sign an important defence deal that will allow enhanced sharing of classified military information between the two countries. The Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) will allow India to use advanced American geospatial data in its military targeting systems.
But in his opening statement on Tuesday, Mr Pompeo said there was much to discuss on a broader range of topics, from “cooperating on defeating the pandemic that originated in Wuhan, to confronting the Chinese Communist Party’s threats to security and freedom, to promoting peace and stability throughout the region.”
After the dialogue, India’s defence minister Rajnath Singh said they had comprehensive discussions and “considered the major challenges” India is facing.
“We also agreed that upholding the rules-based international order, respecting the rule of law and freedom of navigation in the international seas and upholding the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all states are essential,” said Mr Singh.
A joint statement by the two countries said the minister reaffirmed that closer India-US cooperation will support “shared interests in promoting security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond.” They also emphasised that the code of conduct in the South China Sea “should not prejudice the legitimate rights and interests of any nation in accordance with international law.”
China responded to the statements coming out of Delhi by accusing the US of sowing discord between Beijing and other countries in the region.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said: “Pompeo's attacks and allegations against China are nothing new. They are merely old lies repeated time and again, only to expose his cold war mentality and ideological bias."
After India, Mr Pompeo is scheduled to visit Sri Lanka and the Maldives. China has separately cautioned the US not to "bully" Sri Lanka during the talks.
Mr Pompeo’s anti-China comments chime with those of Donald Trump, who is seeking a second term as president in an election next week and has in recent months sharpened his rhetorical attacks on Beijing. Mr Trump has clashed with China on trade issues throughout his first term, but more recently over the Covid-19 pandemic, calling it the “China virus” or “Chinese plague”.
US warships have also been active in the South China Sea in this same period, as they seek to counter China’s growing influence.
Washington has been actively involved in shaping the strengthening bond between the so-called Quad group of countries – India, the US, Japan and Australia – which also has one eye on countering Chinese influence.
The navies of these nations are scheduled to take part in the annual Malabar naval drills off the Indian coast in November, with all four involved for the first time in 13 years, despite Chinese protests.
After the dialogue today, the ministers expressed support for further strengthening Quad cooperation.