THE UNITED States wants India to remain the core of its approach in the Indo-Pacific to protect and enhance a rules-based order in the region, Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Thomas Vadja, who is visiting Mumbai, said on Tuesday.
Speaking to mediapersons, Vadja also said that the US’ Indo-Pacific strategy was “inclusive” and is not targeted against China or any other country so long as they played by the rules.
“A strong US-India relationship is at the core of our approach to the Indo-Pacific. We greatly value our shared vision with India of a free, open inclusive Indo-Pacific and we are committed to support India in achieving its own regional and global ambitions,” he said.
“Our vision for Indo-Pacific is inclusive and does not not exclude anyone. We welcome Chinese investment in the region if it meets international standards and is based on free and transparent processes. The problem, however, is that we have seen China not following these practices,” Vadja added.
The Quad — US, India, Australia and Japan — advocates a free and open Indo-Pacific with the stated objective of ensuring a rules-based order. It is viewed as a counter to China’s growing military and political assertion in the Indo-Pacific region. The US wants India to play a greater role in the Quad but Delhi’s approach has been one of strategic caution, as it seeks to walk the balance with China at the other end.
Vadja said the US wanted to ensure freedom of navigation and open and transparent business environment on the Indo-Pacific, and pointed to China’s investment in Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port as an example of the Asian power not playing by the rules. The port valued at USD 1.3 bn was built using debt from Chinese entities. It, however, faced losses, making it impossible for Sri Lanka to service the debt. The port was finally handed over to China on a 99-year lease.
“There is a question on the economic sustainability of such projects. It has created a debt trap and challenged Sri Lanka’s sovereignty on these projects,” Vajda said. Rather than matching China “dollar for dollar” in order to provide an alternate model to countries in the region looking for investment, Vajda said: “Our intent is to incentivise the private sector. We need trillions of dollars for infrastructure development in this region. Governments can’t meet this need alone. We need to mobilise private sector for this and that is the approach we are taking.”
He added that the US had conducted USD 1.8 trillion in two-way trade with the Indo-Pacific region in 2017 and its FDI in the region reached USD 940 bn. “A strong US-India relationship is at the core of our approach to the Indo-Pacific. We greatly value our shared vision with India of a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific, and we are committed to support India in achieving its own regional and global ambitions,” Vajda said.