China's President Hu talks to India's PM Singh at a plenary session during the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul
China's President Hu talks to India's PM Singh at a plenary session during the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul Reuters

An official at the U.S. Pentagon said the U.S. can have defense relationships with both China and India, despite ongoing tensions between the two Asian giants.

According to a report in the Press Trust of India, an unnamed senior U.S. defense official said: There is no conflict there, we can pursue both. In terms of our relationship with China and India, we can and do maintain positive [relationships] with India and China at the same time.”

The official added: We are working to build a strategic partnership with India,” adding that such an arrangement would not pose any conflicts with proposed defense agreements with Beijing.

His statements coincided with the visit of China’s defense minister Liang Guanglie to Washington – the first such trip in nine years.

Last week, the top military official in the U.S. declared that India will be a military superpower in the near future.

There is this other country called India over here that is also modestly sized and probably will be somewhat influential in the future, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey said sarcastically during a speech at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington-based think-tank.

We are balancing ourselves back into the Pacific. That's not a containment strategy for China.”

Dempsey also made an allusion to ancient Greece during his talk.

Thucydides, the Greek historian, described what he called the 'Thucydides Trap', and it goes something like this -- it was Athenian fear of a rising Sparta that made war inevitable,” he said.

“Well, I think that one of my jobs as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and as an adviser to our senior leaders, is to help avoid a Thucydides trap. We don't want the fear of an emerging China to make war inevitable. So Thucydides - so we're going to avoid Thucydides trap. And I think there's more opportunities than liabilities for us in the Pacific. Of course, you've heard all of our senior leaders say we embrace a rising China.”

A report in National Interest suggested that any military alliance between the U.S. and India should be based on “mutual interests.”

However, India and China --- which fought a war in 1962 – have a long list of conflicts, including territorial disputes along their long border; China’s close relationship with Pakistan; and China’s aggressive attitudes towards the South China Sea, a key oil transportation route.

Moreover, India’s recent successful testing of the Agni-V nuclear-capable missile has raised the stakes considerably -- the device has a range of 5,000 kilometers, which means it can strike any part of China.