Diplomats from the US, Japan and India held the third round of their trilateral dialogue in New Delhi on Monday, with observers believing they had gathered as part of a common strategic intention to deal with a "more assertive" China.
The talks were chaired by US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert Blake, Indian Joint Secretary in charge of East Asia for the External Affairs Ministry Gautam Bambawale, and Japan's Deputy Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Kenji Hiramatsu, according to media reports.
The three decided to enhance their cooperation to combat piracy and to expand maritime security cooperation, the twin issues that have acquired added urgency in view of increasing incidents of piracy off the Gulf of Aden and Somalia, the Indo-Asian News Service (IANS) reported.
Informed sources said Beijing was not discussed explicitly, but the discussions on maritime security took note of Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea and its forays into the Indian Ocean, the report said.
Analysts believe that China's military modernization and the expanding activities of the People's Liberation Army Navy in recent years have caused the trio to take more precautions against Beijing.
The dialogue came as tensions surge between China and Japan over the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, and Washington forges ahead with its strategic pivot to Asia.
Shi Yinhong, director of the Center for American Studies at the Renmin University of China, told the Global Times Monday that the three countries' shared strategic interests had led to this mechanism being created. "Japan has long been a major military ally for Washington, while India became a regional strategic partner since George W. Bush was in office," he added.
Su Hao, director of the Asia-Pacific Research Center at China Foreign Affairs University, explained that while exerting pressure on China from the east, Tokyo has been using India to create a diversion to the west of China.
Last week, Japan and India held their second 2+2 consultations in Tokyo, attended by their foreign and defense chiefs. The two sides reviewed their cooperation in maritime security and regional affairs.
Back in June, the two countries held joint naval exercises and will launch a maritime security consultation mechanism by the end of the year. During a visit to Tokyo by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, planned for mid-November, the two sides are expected to release a new initiative on maritime security cooperation.
Han Hua, a professor at Peking University's School of International Studies, said that although Tokyo sees this setup as a way to exert pressure on China concerning the Diaoyu Islands, it was unlikely that the trio would publicly challenge Beijing's core interests.
Meanwhile, analysts noted that the US has been pushing New Delhi to play a more proactive role in the Pacific region.
In a speech to a think tank in Washington DC last week, US Deputy Secretary of State William J Burns highlighted the US' partnership with India against "less promising trends across the region."
Su said that since ties between China and Japan worsened over the Diaoyu Islands, New Delhi has piled pressure on Beijing hoping to gain from the tensions. "However, China didn't soften its stance over the border issue. As a result, India is trying to keep up the pressure," he noted.
While acknowledging the trilateral mechanism would place growing strategic pressure on China's foreign policy, Shi noted that the three countries still have great divergences as to their individual their priorities, with India more focused on South Asia for instance.
The three countries began trilateral talks in Washington in December 2011 and followed this up with another summit earlier this year in Tokyo.
Agencies contributed to this story