NEW DELHI: The US has slammed what it terms China’s efforts to “reorder" the Indo-Pacific region to its advantage by leveraging military modernization and predatory economics to coerce nations, while describing India as a partner with which Washington shares a “common outlook" about the Indo-Pacific.
In its Indo-Pacific Strategy report of 1 June, the US department of defence has said that “India through its ‘Act East’ policy, continues to make significant security, economic, and development investments to secure the vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region." Underlining the importance of the Indian Ocean Region, the report described it as being “at the nexus of global trade and commerce, with nearly half of the world’s 90,000 commercial vessels and two thirds of global oil trade travelling through its sea lanes." The region has been described as “the single most consequential region for America’s future."
“While the region offers unprecedented opportunity, it is also confronting a myriad of security challenges, including terrorism," the report said. To combat these, the US aims to “broaden and strengthen" partnerships with countries such as India, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Bangladesh, and Nepal.
On China, the report has said that Beijing “continues its economic and military ascendance, it seeks Indo-Pacific regional hegemony in the near-term and, ultimately, global pre-eminence in the long-term."
“China, under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, seeks to reorder the region to its advantage by leveraging military modernization, influence operations, and predatory economics to coerce other nations," acting US defence secretary Patrick M. Shanahan said in a note in the report.
“In contrast, the department of defence supports choices that promote long-term peace and prosperity for all in the Indo-Pacific. We will not accept policies or actions that threaten or undermine the rules-based international order, an order that benefits all nations. We are committed to defending and enhancing these shared values," Shanahan said.
The Pentagon report comes at a time when tensions are running high between the US and China over commercial issues with the US beginning to impose higher tariffs on Chinese goods entering US markets in the absence of a trade deal between the two. It also comes amid worries among countries of the Indo-Pacific region about whether the US remains militarily committed to the region in the face of a rising China.
“Our vision for a free Indo-Pacific is one in which all nations, regardless of size, are able to exercise their sovereignty free from coercion by other countries," the report said. “Our vision for an open Indo-Pacific is one that promotes sustainable growth and connectivity in the region."
“This means all nations enjoy access to international waters, airways, and cyber and space domains, and are able to pursue peaceful resolution of territorial and maritime disputes," it said.
The two statements taken together can be seen as criticism of China’s attempts to claim all of the resource rich South China Sea as well as Beijing’s “Belt and Road Initiative" that seeks to rebuild the old Silk Road to connect China with Asia, Europe and beyond through a series of roads, ports and railways. Countries such as India and the US have warned against that the countries signing up for the BRI could be falling into a debt trap lured by Beijing’s offer of cheap loans to build infrastructure that the countries then cannot pay back.