Two days after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson outlined the Indo-Pacific as a major theme in a scene-setting speech ahead of his India visit next week, New Delhi on Friday “appreciated” his “positive evaluation” of the relationship and said it “shared his optimism” on the future direction of Indo-US ties.
Ahead of Tillerson’s visit on October 24, discussions between the two sides on the quadrilateral group — India, US, Japan and Australia — have picked up in preparatory meetings between the two sides. This ties in well with the focus on “Indo-Pacific” at a policy speech at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington DC on Wednesday night, titled “Defining Our Relationship with India for the Next Century”.
In his speech, Tillerson mentioned “Indo-Pacific” 19 times, making it clearly the centrepiece of his remarks.
Responding to the visiting US Secretary’s speech, the Ministry of External Affairs’ official spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said on Friday: “Secretary Tillerson has made a significant policy statement on India-US relations and its future. He brought out its various strengths and highlighted our shared commitment to a rule-based international order. We appreciate his positive evaluation of the relationship and share his optimism about its future directions. We look forward to welcoming him in India next week for detailed discussions on further strengthening of our partnership.”
Hours earlier, US State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said Tillerson will meet senior Indian leaders to discuss further strengthening of strategic partnership and collaboration on “security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region”.
“The Secretary’s visit to India will advance the ambitious agenda laid out by President Trump and Prime Minister Modi during the Prime Minister’s visit to the White House in June,” she said.
Sources told The Indian Express that the two sides had discussed the idea of quadrilateral cooperation in Indo-Pacific during Defence Secretary James Mattis’s visit last month. “This idea has been top of the agenda in the last few meetings between Indian and American officials… we need to see how it plays out now,” a source said.
Tillerson, in his speech on Wednesday, said that the starting point should continue to be greater engagement and cooperation with Indo-Pacific democracies. “We are already capturing the benefits of our important trilateral engagement between the US, India, and Japan. As we look ahead, there is room to invite others, including Australia, to build on the shared objectives and initiatives,” he told the gathering which included Indian Ambassador to the US, Navtej Sarna.
He had referred to the rise of China, saying its behaviour and action was “posing a challenge to the rules-based international order”.
“China, while rising alongside India, has done so less responsibly, at times undermining the international, rules-based order — even as countries like India operate within a framework that protects other nations’ sovereignty,” he said, which has not gone down well in Beijing.
“China’s provocative actions in the South China Sea directly challenge the international law and norms that the US and India both stand for,” Tillerson said.
Officials in Delhi agree that Tillerson’s articulation that the emerging Delhi-Washington strategic partnership is crucial and that the world, Indo-Pacific in particular, needs the United States and India to have a strong partnership.