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US secretary of state Rex Tillerson says the Donald Trump administration expects Pakistan to take ‘decisive action against terrorist groups’ based within its borders. Photo: Reuters
US secretary of state Rex Tillerson says the Donald Trump administration expects Pakistan to take ‘decisive action against terrorist groups’ based within its borders. Photo: Reuters

Rex Tillerson to visit India next week to dramatically deepen ties, chides China

US secretary of state Rex Tillerson calls for US and India to expand strategic ties, accuses China of challenging international norms needed for global stability

New Delhi: In a bold policy statement, US secretary of state Rex Tillerson reiterated the Donald Trump administration’s commitment to Washington’s special relationship with India on Wednesday, saying he was “determined to dramatically deepen" bilateral ties when he visits India next week.

In a speech titled Defining Our Relationship with India for the Next Century at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, Tillerson said India, unlike China was a democracy, and committed to the rule of law and did not create “disorder" or engage in “predatory economics".

Tillerson’s remarks on China came on the day Beijing began the 19th People’s Congress—a twice-in-a-decade event that sets the Chinese Communist Party’s agenda and policy framework for the next five years. At the Congress, President Xi Jinping pledged that China would be fully engaged with the world and reiterated a promise to tackle climate change. This comes against the backdrop of US President Trump’s “America First" approach as well as his pulling the US out of the 2015 Paris Climate Change pact.

Tillerson’s comments not only confirm the depth of the India-US relationship, they also signal the US vision and understanding of India’s role and standing in the new emerging world order to contain any Chinese belligerence.

The speech came days before Tillerson is to visit South Asia, including Pakistan and India. This will be his first visit to the region, following one by US defence secretary James Mattis, who was in India and Afghanistan last month.

Recalling a June summit between Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Tillerson said both sides were committed to building an “ambitious" partnership that benefits not just India and the US, but also other nations working towards peace and stability.

Noting that more than 600 US companies were operating in India, Tillerson said US foreign direct investment in India had jumped by 500% in the past two years alone. Bilateral trade hit a record of roughly $ 115 billion last year. “Together, we have built a sturdy foundation of economic cooperation as we look for more avenues of expansion," he said.

The US-India partnership has far-reaching implications for the next 100 years, Tillerson said, adding that the “emerging Delhi-Washington strategic partnership stands upon a shared commitment of upholding the rule of law, freedom of navigation, universal values and free trade".

“Our nations are two bookends of stability on either side of the globe," the top US diplomat said. He noted that China’s rise took place almost alongside India’s but said Beijing had done so “less responsibly", at times “undermining the international rules-based order".

He promised that the US will be a partner to help India build its defence, security as well as economic capacities as he outlined a security architecture in the Indo-Pacific region that included Japan and Australia to meet the challenges in the region—mainly from a rising China.

“The US seeks constructive relations with China but we will not shrink from China’s challenges to the rules-based order," Tillerson said, adding “it is time to double down on a democratic partner that is still rising and rising responsibly for the next 100 years".

Tillerson said that in the current era of uncertainties in the world, “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".

On terrorism, a major concern for India, Tillerson called on Pakistan “to take decisive action against terrorist groups based within their own borders that threaten its own people and the broader region".

“ I think the India-US relationship is acquiring traction in some areas like high tech, defence, etc. But I think India has to really make up its mind on adding real strategic long-term content to the relationship... There have been some good meetings but this long-term vision seems missing," said U. Bhaskar, director of the Society for Policy Studies, a think tank in Delhi.

Ties between India and the US, on opposite sides during the Cold War years, have warmed considerably since 2000 with four US presidential visits since then, compared with the same number during 1947-2000.

In 2008, the two countries signed the landmark civil nuclear cooperation agreement that saw the elimination of 34 years of embargoes against New Delhi acquiring nuclear technology and power plants from the international market. Former US president Barack Obama, during a visit to India in 2010, described the US-India relationship as the defining partnership of the 21st century.

The US is currently one of India’s top trading partners. New Delhi has bought about $10 billion worth of defence hardware from the US, unthinkable during the Cold War years. The two countries cooperate on terrorism and counter insurgency. The two countries have some 30 dialogue mechanisms between them spanning health, trade and security issues.

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