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Citing Chinese action on LAC, US seeks to draw India closer

Source : The Times of India

Citing Chinese action on LAC, US seeks to draw India closer
US Foreign Secretary Antony Blinken with Indian External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar in Melbourne, during Quad Foreign Ministers Summit 2022

The Biden administration on Friday pledged to continue building a strategic partnership with India as part of its Indo-Pacific outlook, citing China’s depredations at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) among other reasons for the renewed impetus that comes amid war clouds on the Atlantic front.

The 12-page strategy paper released in Washington on Friday on the heels of the Quad ministerial meeting in Australia, promised to “steadily advance our Major Defense Partnership with India and support its role as a net security provider” while “supporting India’s continued rise and regional leadership.”

“We recognize that India is a like-minded partner and leader in South Asia and the Indian Ocean, active in and connected to Southeast Asia, a driving force of the Quad and other regional fora, and an engine for regional growth and development,” the strategy paper said, acknowledging New Delhi’s primacy in its neighborhood that China has long tried to undermine with its surrogate Pakistan.

Although Senior US Administration officials who briefed the media on the paper said it not an exclusive “China strategy,” which he said was global in scope, it nevertheless cited “the rise of China and China’s much more assertive and aggressive behavior” in the region to reassert America’s Pacific power credentials and its enhanced outreach towards allies and partners.

“This intensifying American focus is due in part to the fact that the Indo-Pacific faces mounting challenges, particularly from the PRC. The PRC is combining its economic, diplomatic, military, and technological might as it pursues a sphere of influence in the Indo-Pacific and seeks to become the world’s most influential power. The PRC’s coercion and aggression spans the globe, but it is most acute in the Indo-Pacific. From the economic coercion of Australia to the conflict along the Line of Actual Control with India to the growing pressure on Taiwan and bullying of neighbors in the East and South China Seas, our allies and partners in the region bear much of the cost of the PRC’s harmful behavior,” the strategy paper said, asserting with respect to New Delhi that Washington would continue to build a strategic partnership in which the US and India work together and through regional groupings to promote stability in South Asia; collaborate in new domains such as health, space, and cyberspace; deepen their economic and technology cooperation; and contribute to a free and open Indo-Pacific.

Asked at a briefing whether the US had made progress with signing up India as a treaty ally as it has done with Australia, the Senior Administration official said “India is in a very different place, in many ways than Australia than other countries” but suggested it could be in the offing because “China’s behavior in the line of actual control has had a galvanizing impact on India.”

“From our standpoint, we see tremendous opportunities in working with another democracy, with a country that has a maritime tradition that understands the importance of the global commons to advance critical issues in the region,” the official said, adding that there is tremendous appreciation in Washington of the importance and the challenges of strengthening the engagement with India and a recognition that India is a critical strategic partner.

The US Indo-Pacific strategy was released even as the Biden administration continued to sound alarms on the Atlantic front, rallying its NATO partners for what it warns is an impending Russian invasion of Ukraine as early as next week. Asked if the ongoing situation in Ukraine and Russia has had any impact on crafting the Indo-Pacific strategy, the official asserted the US was capable of handling multiple challenges simultaneously.“I think that we are very confident of our ability to walk and chew gum at the same time,” he said.

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