Calling the United States and India “two bookends of stability on either side of the globe,” the Trump administration on Wednesday bluntly proposed that Washington and New Delhi work together in the Indo-Pacific region to counter the disruptive force that China has become.
In a stunning new dynamic unveiled by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Trump’s America ditched the pussy-footing and kid glove treatment of China that characterized the previous Obama and Bush administrations as they sought to woo New Delhi to counter Beijing’s growing assertiveness in the region and beyond.
“The United States seeks constructive relations with China. But we won’t shrink from China’s challenges to the rules-based order, or where China subverts the sovereignty of neighboring countries, and disadvantages the US and our friends.” Tillerson said in a remarkably candid address to the Washington think-tank, adding, “In this period of uncertainty and angst, India needs a reliable partner on the world stage. I want to make clear: with
our shared values and vision for global stability+
, peace and prosperity, the United States is that partner.”
In an unprecedented criticism of Beijing and its methods while juxtaposing and contrasting it with New Delhi’s outlook, Tillerson said China, while rising alongside India, “has done so less responsibly, at times undermining the international, rules-based order – even as countries like India operate within a framework that protects other nations’ sovereignty.”
“China’s provocative actions in the
South China Sea+
directly challenge the international law and norms that the United States and India both stand for,” he added, drawing New Delhi into the strategic matrix in the Asia-Pacific region where a rising and assertive Beijing has begun to challenge Washington’s decades long dominance even as New Delhi has largely stood by the sidelines.
The US Secretary of State’s remarks came hours after President Trump publicly and symbolically threw his support behind India by hosting a
Diwali event at the White House+
, while rhapsodizing about India, Indian-Americans, Hindu-Americans, and Prime Minister Modi.
Tillerson gave the sentiments policy heft with an India outreach that left no one in doubt which way the Trump administration is leaning towards in the Asia-Pacific region that is now increasingly being referred to as the Indo-Pacific region.
“The world’s center of gravity is shifting to the heart of the Indo-Pacific. The
United States and India+
– with our shared goals of peace, security, freedom of navigation, and a free and open architecture – must serve as the eastern and western beacons of the Indo-Pacific. As the port and starboard lights between which the region can reach its greatest and best potential,” Tillerson said .
“We need to collaborate with India to ensure that the Indo-Pacific is increasingly a place of peace, stability, and growing prosperity – so that it does not become a region of disorder, conflict and predatory economics,” he added.
Tillerson also issued a blunt warning to China’s client state Pakistan, saying “states that use terror as an instrument of policy will only see their international reputation and standing diminish” and “it is the obligation, not choice, of every civilized nation to combat the scourge of terrorism” and the United States and India are leading that regional effort together.
“We expect Pakistan to take decisive action against terrorist groups based there that threaten its own people and the broader region. In doing so, Pakistan furthers stability and peace for itself and its neighbors, and improves its own international standing,” he added.
In a transparent smackdown of Pakistan toxic religion-based extremism and critics who have worried if New Delhi is going the same route, Tillerson said India can also serve as a clear example of a diverse, dynamic, and pluralistic country to others – a flourishing democracy in the age of global terrorism.
“The sub-continent is the birthplace of four of the world’s major religions, and India’s diverse population includes more than 170 million Muslims – the third-largest Muslim population in the world. Yet we do not encounter significant numbers of Indian Muslims among foreign fighters in the ranks of ISIS or other terror groups, which speaks to the strengths of Indian society,” Tillerson said, echoing the Bush administration, which first made such an observation, while implicitly rejecting the apprehensions of some liberal sections who fear that New Delhi is controlled by a Hindu nationalist government.
But it was Tillerson’s upfront remarks setting up India to counter China – coming just ahead of President Trump’s trip to Asia next month to attend the APEC and Asean meetings (Tillerson himself will be visiting India later this month), that caught the eyes and ears of the diplomatic community and world capitals.
“We are already capturing the benefits of our important trilateral engagement between the US, India, and Japan. As we look ahead, there is room to invite others, including Australia, to build on shared objectives and initiatives,” Tillerson said, setting up the roadmap for Trump’s Asia visit next month.