New Delhi: A newly declassified Donald Trump administration strategy paper has stated that India could counterbalance China in the Indo-Pacific region and notes that the United States should be offering substantive “support” to New Delhi in border and water disputes.
With less than a week left for president-elect Joe Biden to take over, the White House has partially declassified what it calls the “United States Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific“.
As per a press communique from US National Security Advisor Robert C O’Brien, this document provided “overarching strategic guidance for implementing the President’s 2017 National Security Strategy within the world’s most populous and economically dynamic region”.
The 10-page document, approved in February 2018, was declassified and released “to communicate to the American people and our allies and partners America’s enduring commitment to this vital region”.
The paper identified three significant challenges – maintaining US strategic primacy in the Indo-Pacific, ensuring North Korea does not threaten the US or its allies and advancing American global economic leadership.
The document centred around preventing the spread of Chinese power by stopping it from “establishing new, illiberal spheres of influence”.
The paper noted that the strategic competition between the US and China would persist, owing to the “divergent nature and goals of our political and economic systems”. Beijing will attempt to dominate by circumventing “international rules” and dissolving US assistance and partnership in the region. “China will exploit vacuums and opportunities created by these diminished bonds”. The document also stated that China will take “increasingly assertive steps to compel unification with Taiwan”.
“Chinese economic, diplomatic, and military influence will continue to increase in the near-term and challenge the US’s ability to achieve its national interests in the Indo-Pacific region,” it noted.
In the list of ‘assumptions’, the document stated, “a strong India, in cooperation with like-minded countries, would act as a counterbalance to China”.
On Wednesday, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian stated that the declassified report “distorts China’s neighbourhood diplomacy and hypes up the so-called “China threat”.
“Its content only serves to expose the malign intention of the United States to use its Indo-Pacific strategy to suppress and contain China and undermine regional peace and stability,” spokesperson Zhao Lijian said in Beijing. “The US side is obsessed with ganging up, forming small cliques and resorting to despicable means such as wedge-driving, which fully exposed its true face as a trouble-maker undermining regional peace, stability, solidarity and cooperation”.
While the US paper talks of strengthening alliances, the Trump administration had a rocky start with its critical partnerships in Asia like South Korea and Australia. An essential US action required blunt North Korean threat was that Japan and South Korea should be drawn “closer to one another”. Instead, in the last four years, the issue of “comfort women” has left relations between the two Asian nations in the doldrums.
The paper had descriptions for ten desired “end states”, including the maintenance of US military pre-eminence in the region. It also envisioned India to remain as a “preeminent” power in South Asia and taking a leading role in maintaining Indian Ocean security, deeper engagement with Southeast and US allies in the region.
Among the steps proposed in the 2018 document to “accelerate” India’s rise was to support “India’s engagement with Nuclear Suppliers Group” and also work with India on “domestic economic reform”.
Further, it had also proposed that US should “offer support to India through diplomatic, military, and intelligence channels to help address continental challenges such as the border dispute with China and access to water, including the Brahmaputra and other rivers facing diversion by China”.
It also called for Washington to work with India and Japan to finance regional connectivity projects.
Just six months before this document was approved, India and China had been involved in a two-month-long military stand-off in Bhutan’s Doklam region.
Both Asian giants are currently at loggerheads in eastern Ladakh, where their armies are eyeball-to-eyeball at the Line of Actual Control for over nine months. India had procured deep winter clothing and equipment for its troops stationed in sub-zero conditions at the stand-off points through a logistical agreement with the US.