Modi averred to President Obama that he was angry and disappointed with the PRC over alleged border perfidy in Ladakh in 2014 at the time of Xi Jinping's visit, and Modi endorsed the US position on the South China Sea and efforts to upgrade the US-Japan-India-Australia security quadrilateral.
In the matter of the "border" incident (there is no accepted border or even a mutually understood Line of Control; there is an overlapping 20-kilometer wide band in which Indian and PRC local forces work within ill-defined "Lines of Perception" and engage in persistent envelope-pushing, patrolling, hut construction, and road-building that make it easy for either side to foment an incident) in the barren wastes of Ladakh, perhaps Xi Jinping thought he could get Sino-Indian relations on a solid footing by humiliating Modi before his army and his nation with a gratuitous provocation.
An equally plausible explanation for the otherwise inexplicable PRC affront--which recapitulated a previous incident in Ladakh that similarly overshadowed the decidedly unmartial technocrat Li Keqiang's state visit in 2013--was that it was engineered by hardliners in the Indian security establishment (who exhaustively backgrounded, briefed, and ballyhoo'd the incident to the receptive Indian press during Xi's visit) to balk PRC attempts to improve relations and negotiate the borders issue, and Modi grasped the opportunity to wrongfoot the economically and strategically overbearing PRC in order to advance his strategic agenda
In this case, perhaps Modi was putting the incident to further good use to tell President Obama exactly what he wanted to hear, provide a compelling narrative to underpin the important Sino-US relationship, and help extract various economic and security benefits, including the heightened intelligence cooperation that advocates of the US-Indian security alliance are promoting.
Per the Indian Express (which also revealed in passing that, in addition to the canonical "Five Eyes" intelligence sharing arrangement, the US has also midwifed "Nine Eyes" and "Fourteen Eyes" intel clubs in Europe in addition to pacts with Japan and South Korea), Indian intelligence priorities will include a) Pakistan b) China c) keeping the US at arms-length, not necessarily in that order:
The pact would enable India access to encrypted digital traffic its intelligence services are now unable to decipher. It would also make state-of-the-art western espionage technology available to the Directorate of Military Intelligence and the National Technical Research Organization...The US has provided a growing volume of information on planned attacks by Pakistan-based groups--helping India pre-empt at least two attacks on diplomatic facilities in Afghanistan.
There are, sources said, several formidable challenges to be overcome before India can begin purchasing cutting edge digital intelligence technologies from the US. For example, fearful that equipment can be used to eavesdrop on sensitive information, India insists on domestic security certification for purchases. However, no Indian firm currently certifies EAL7+, the most stringent standard for digital security.
Fears also exist that an intelligence-sharing agreement might allow penetration of its own secrets. The Vajpayee government (the first BJP national government--ed.) which saw the first warming in ties with the US, was deeply embarrassed by the disclosure that the US had recruited Research and Analysis Wing officer Rabinder Sing...
It remains to be seen who comes out ahead in the US-India tango and, in particular, how deep Modi is willing to follow the US down the China-containment rabbit hole. Modi's statements on China policy are, for the time being, cost-free lip service and in the end, Modi played true to independent form in the matter of climate change by publicly and bluntly rejecting President Obama’s call to limit India’s greenhouse gas emissions.
In 2002, noting that all attempts in India to make the government release the Report had failed, I decided on a more direct approach and made the text available to the editors of three of India’s leading publications, asking that they observe the usual journalistic practice of keeping their source to themselves. … To my surprise the editors concerned decided, unanimously, not to publish… Later I gave the text to a fourth editor and offered it to a fifth, with the same nil result.
N.B. For further reading, readers are welcome to review my previous pieces on Sino-Indian relations: China “pivot” trips over McMahon Line; China’s Flank of Discontent; India Places Its Asia Bet on Japan; Is Narendra Modi the Leader of the World's Largest Democracy...Or the World's Most Successful Fascist?
Republic Day photos: BBC
Aitchison Compendium: www.amazon.com
Tawang Monastery: www.stevedinicol.com