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    Wargame with India not to put China in a closet: US admiral

    New Delhi, Aug. 24 (PTI): Ahead of the biggest naval wargame to be hosted by India in the Bay of Bengal, a top American military official Thursday scotched China's fears that the exercise involving US, Australia and Japan was aimed at isolating the communist country.

    US Navy's Pacific Commander, Timothy J Keating, observed that Indo-US military ties had become "more robust" but side-stepped questions about opposition from the Left parties to the upcoming 'Malabar Exercise', merely saying, "it is what democracy is all about."

    The four-day 'Malabar Exercise' beginning on September 4, which will see the biggest congregation of warships in the Bay of Bengal since the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war, is a reflection of the "shared interest" of India, US, Australia and Singapore, Keating told reporters.

    At the same time, he said, "We want to minimise the potential areas of misunderstanding and confusion between all of us and China."

    The manouvres are not aimed at forming a "quadilateral front" against China, said Keating, who is on a four-day visit here to discuss ties between the navies of India and the US.

    "Let me emphasise, there is is no effort on our part or any of these other countries (participating in the exercises) to isolate China or put Beijing in a closet," Keating said.

    "As it happens, there are interests shared by the US, India, Japan, Australia and others all across the region," Keating told reporters when asked about the purpose of the multi-nation exercise.

    Rather than giving the perception that "we are isolating China," Keating said, "We are seeking to embrace them, to the extent we should and we can and want to and the extent they want to.

    China had been invited to observe some exercises organised by the US in Hawaii and the gathering of American defence chiefs in October, he said. "It is up to them," he noted.

    Keating on Thursday met the Indian military top brass, including Naval Chief Admiral, Sureesh Mehta, Army Chief, Gen. J J Singh, IAF Chief, Air Chief Marshal Fali H Major, and Defence Secretary, Vijay Singh.

    "I am optimistic that the bilateral military-to-military relations are on solid ground and on the upswing," he said.

    Asked if New Delhi had ever sounded Washington on the possibility of calling-off the exercise in the Bay of Bengal or any delay in holding them, Keating said, "I am unaware of any such discussion."

    About the perception in some quarters in India that New Delhi was cosying up to Washinton, Keating said the two countries respected each other's sovereignity. "Our partnership with India in the military sphere is much more roboust now," he pointed out.

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