The United States military renamed its Pacific Command the US Indo-Pacific Command in a symbolic move underscoring the growing importance of India to the Pentagon.
US Pacific Command, which is responsible for all US military activity in the greater Pacific region, has about 375,000 civilian and military personnel assigned to its area of responsibility, which includes India.
“Relationships with our Pacific and Indian Ocean allies and partners have proven critical to maintaining regional stability,” US defence chief James Mattis said on Wednesday.
“In recognition of the increasing connectivity between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, today we rename the US Pacific Command to US Indo-Pacific Command,” Mattis said.
The renaming does not mean additional assets will be sent to the region at this time, but rather recognises India’s increasing military relevance for the US.
In 2016, the US and India signed an agreement governing the use of each other’s land, air and naval bases for repair and resupply, a step towards building defence ties as they seek to counter the growing maritime assertiveness of China.
Speaking in Beijing, Chinese defence ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said the name change had been noted.
“We will continue to pay attention to developments,” he told a regular monthly news briefing.
The US is also eager to tap into India’s large defence market. It has emerged as India’s number two weapons supplier, closing $15bn worth of deals over the last decade.