Pompeo, Esper Push Anti-China 10/25 10:09
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Just a week before November's election, two of President
Donald Trump's top national security aides will visit India for meetings
focused largely on countering China's growing global influence. As the bitter
race between Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden winds down, the talks
this week in New Delhi aim to reinforce the president's anti-China campaign
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper will meet
their Indian counterparts for strategic and security talks on Tuesday, after
which Pompeo will travel on to Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Indonesia. All of
them are contending with a tug-of-war between Washington and Beijing that has
intensified as Trump seeks to paint Biden as weak on China.
Trump has played up his friendship with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi
in his re-election bid but may have set his case back with an off-the-cuff
remark about climate change at his Thursday debate with Biden. "Look at China,
how filthy it is. Look at Russia. Look at India, it's filthy. The air is
filthy. " he said, defending his decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate
Whether offense will be taken by the Indians or whether it will affect
Pompeo and Esper's mission is not clear. Yet, regardless of election
considerations, it is a critical time in the U.S.-India relationship as China
looms large over what Washington has labeled the Indo-Pacific region.
Heightened border tensions between New Delhi and Beijing have only added to
Chinese-American animosity that has been fueled by disputes over the
coronavirus, trade, technology, Taiwan, Tibet, Hong Kong, human rights and
disputes between China and its smaller neighbors in the South China Sea. Those
competing maritime and territorial claims will figure prominently at Pompeo's
last stop in Indonesia.
Meanwhile, India is looking to emerge from a shell of internal issues,
including unrest in the Himalayan region of Kashmir, as it faces twin threats
from China and Pakistan.
Tuesday's meetings come amid a recent flareup in military tensions between
India and China over disputed mountainous border with tens of thousands of
their soldiers in a standoff since May. Trump has has offered to help defuse
tensions but has yet to receive any indication of interest from either side.
India and China fought a month-long war over the region at the height of the
Cuban Missile Crisis in the fall of 1962 and some fear a similar confrontation
before this winter sets in.
Pompeo has made no secret of the Trump administration's desire to isolate
China. Asked about his trip, Pompeo said last week: "I'm sure that my meetings
will also include discussions on how free nations can work together to thwart
threats posed by the Chinese Communist Party."
Ahead of Pompeo and Esper's visit, Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun
visited New Delhi last week and called China "an elephant in the room,"
stressing that Washington is keen to advance India's interests in the region,
build a free and open Indo-Pacific, and counter risks posed by Chinese
high-tech telecommunication networks that the U.S. sees as central to China's
predatory economic activity.
"We will take every opportunity to really advocate for a strong digital
economy and partnership in the countries where we're going and seek support of
the Clean Networks, which we think works to every country's advantage," said
Dean Thompson, the top U.S. diplomat for South Asia.
Since Trump became president, the U.S. and India have steadily ramped up
their military relationship. When Trump visited India in February, the two
sides concluded defense deals worth over $3 billion. Bilateral defense trade
has increased from near zero in 2008 to $15 billion in 2019.
Still India is wary of being drawn into the fight between the world's two
largest economies. G. Parthasarthy, a retired Indian diplomat, said India was
not interested in becoming a front-line state against China. "It is a move to
balance the growing Chinese power in this area. The India-China border issue is
not going to go away with the Chinese claims increasing," he said.
The talks in New Delhi on Tuesday follow a meeting that Pompeo had earlier
this month in Tokyo with his counterparts from India, Japan and Australia,
which together make up the four Indo-Pacific nations known as "the Quad." The
Quad is seen as a counterweight to China, who critics say is flexing its
military muscle throughout the region.
Pompeo will head back to Washington by way of Sri Lanka, the Maldives and
Indonesia during which he plans to press each nation to push back in Chinese
assertiveness. He's also expected to raise human rights issues at each stop