Tillerson seeks stronger ties with India

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks on Relationship with India for the Next Century at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington on October 18, 2017.   | Photo Credit: REUTERS

India and America are “two bookends of stability – on either side of the globe” and the “emerging Delhi-Washington strategic partnership” has the potential to anchor the rules based world order for the next hundred years, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said.

 Mr. Tillerson, who will be travelling to India and Pakistan next week, said both countries are “important elements” in the U.S. policy for stabilising South Asia and characterised China a destabilising force. “China’s provocative actions in the South China Sea directly challenge the international law and norms that the United State and India both stand for,” he said, speaking at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on ‘U.S.-India Partnership of the next 100 years: The foundations of a free and open Indo-Pacific.’

 The Secretary of State said the new “regional approach” on Afghanistan involved seeking a resolution to tensions between India and Pakistan also. “We intent to work closely with India and Pakistan and we hope to ease tensions along their borders as well..Pakistan has two very troubled borders. We would like to help take the tensions down on both of those,” Mr. Tillerson said. 

 “We see it as a regional issue. We solve Afghanistan by addressing the regional challenges. Pakistan is important element in that India is important element in that. Of how we achieve the ultimate the objective, which is a stable Afghanistan, which no longer serves as a launch pad for terrorism,” he said, adding that such an improvement in Afghanistan will benefit Pakistan and Afghanistan. “India’s significant role is in giving development assistance to Afghanistan…” he said. Mr. Tillerson said the new South Asia policy of the U.S. was a message to the Taliban and others that “we are not going anywhere and we are going to be here as long as it takes…”

 “…We don’t see it as one issue, and (it is) about stabilising the entire region… (A stable Afghanistan) will create a better condition for India Pakistan relationship,” he said. 

The top diplomat said America’s “relationships in the region stand on their own merits”, a position that is in line with the position of the previous Obama administration. “We expect Pakistan to take decisive action against terrorist groups based there that threaten its own people and the broader region. In doing so, Pakistan furthers stability and peace for itself and its neighbours, and improves its own international standing,” he said.  

 Mr. Tillerson’s explanation of the new South Asia policy of the U.S. calls into question the interpretation of it as an acceptance of the Indian line, and a rejection of Pakistan’s position. Pakistan maintains that terrorism and insurgencies in Jammu and Kashmir and Afghanistan are all part of the same problem. Mr. Tillerson’s views also echoed President Donald Trump who said last week that he was developing better relations with Pakistan. 



Convergence on China

Mr. Tillerson was categorical in his support for the Indian position on China and its aid and financing support for other countries in the region, terming it “predatory economics.”

“We have watched activities and actions in this region, particularly of China, that brings financing mechanisms that saddle countries in debt… they don’t often create the jobs that they should… too often foreign workers are brought in… financing that are structured in such a way that it is very difficult for them to obtain future financing… often there are triggers that often turn debt into equity,” he said, distinguishing India’s approach to world order from China’s.

“China is rising. India is rising. If you watch out these two taking their rightful place in the world, they have gone about it in different ways… We have an important relationship with China but we will never have the same relationship with them as we have with India, a big democracy,” Mr. Tillerson said, underscoring the dramatic increase in defence partnership between the two countries. He said the high levels of technology sharing with India that the U.S. has been doing is a reflection of the trust between the countries and the strength of the partnership. 

 Repeatedly referring to India’s democratic politics, Mr. Tillerson also referred to India’s Muslim minority. “India’s diverse population includes more than 170 million Muslims — the third-largest Muslim population in the world. Yet we do not encounter significant numbers of Indian Muslims among foreign fighters in the ranks of ISIS or other terror groups, which speaks to the strengths of Indian society,” he said, adding that India “can also serve as a clear example of a diverse, dynamic, and pluralistic country to others.”

 Experts laud

 Several India watchers who listened to the Secretary of State’s first full fledged foreign policy speech lauded it.

“This is an excellent approach from India’s perspective. He has touched upon all issues that bring our countries closer, and underscored the importance of the partnership,” said Mukesh Aghi, president of the U.S.-India Strategic Partnership Forum. Nisha Biswal, former Assistant Secretary of State and President-designate of the U.S.-India Business Council, said: “The speech mapped out what is at stake for both countries, not only for the new few years, but the next century. It is not by accident that the first major foreign policy speech by the secretary is on U.S.-India relations. 

Richard M. Rossow of the Wadhwani Chair in U.S. India Policy Studies at CSIS said “Secretary Tillerson has explicitly called out China for predatory economic practices. India has been the conscince of the world. India was the first country to do so. India has influenced the U.S. thinking on this.”


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