Just before ushering in the New Year on December 31, US President Donald Trump signed an Act designed to counter the encroaching influence and growing threat from China and to reinvigorate US leadership in the Indo-Pacific region.
Calling for strengthening of diplomatic, economic, and security ties with India, the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act (ARIA) allocates a budget of $1.5 billion over a five-year period to enhance cooperation with America’s strategic regional allies in the region. The new law cites “China’s illegal construction and militarization of artificial features in the South China Sea and coercive economic practices”, and mandates actions for “countering China’s influence to undermine the international system”.
The Act notes “the increased presence throughout Southeast Asia of the Islamic State and other international terrorist organizations that threaten the United States”. The law states that US “recognizes the vital role of the strategic partnership between the United States and India in promoting peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region” and “calls for strengthening and broadening of diplomatic, economic, and security ties between the United States and India”.
It reiterates US commitment to all “bilateral and security agreements and arrangements” between the two countries, including the New Framework for the United States-India Defense Relationship, and the United States-India Defense Technology and Trade Initiative. Stressing the “designation of India as a major defense partner, which is unique to India,” the new law states that this designation “elevates defense trade and technology cooperation between the United States and India to a level commensurate with the closest allies and partners of the United States”.
The law also refers to Quadrilateral Security Dialogue between US, Australia, India, and Japan, calling it “vital to address pressing security challenges in the Indo-Pacific region in order to promote a rules-based order; respect for international law; and a free and open Indo-Pacific.” It, however, clarifies that such a dialogue is intended to augment, rather than to replace, current mechanisms. ARIA Act was introduced in the US Senate in April by Senator Cory Gardner, chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific and International Cybersecurity Policy and was co-sponsored by Senators Edward Markey, Marco Rubio, and Ben Cardin.
It was passed by the US Senate on December 4 and approved by the US Congress on December 12. It was one of the 13 Bills signed into law by President Trump on the last day of 2018.