A declassified policy document of the outgoing Trump administration on Indo-Pacific reveals broad measures to contain China, including “accelerating India’s rise.”
The revelation is said to have been aimed at pressuring the incoming Biden administration to stay the course in the larger context of US-China-India ties given their wider implication in the redefined freer Indo-Pacific trade transactions involving many countries in the region.
The declassification is a rare occasion in the US since such internal assessment of policy decisions are not made public before two decades of their conception.
The objectives set out in the document correspond with what US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had said in Delhi during his October visit. “The US will stand with the people of India as they confront threats to their sovereignty and to their liberty,” he had said at a news briefing.
The revelations also coincide with Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s remarks during the same visit. In his opening statement at the joint media briefing in Delhi, he had said that the “US would stand shoulder-to-shoulder in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific, in light of increasing aggression and destabilising activities by China”.
The strategy underlines a “strong India, in cooperation with like-minded countries, would act as a counterbalance to China.” It says New Delhi is a “preferred partner on security issues.”
The broad contours of the policy were already known, but their official declassification came at a time when the US is involved in a bitter war of words with Beijing on the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic amid the India-China standoff in eastern Ladakh.
The document was classified as ‘secret’ not meant for foreign nationals by Deputy National Security Advisor Matt Pottinger. It sets the objective of India maintaining its “preeminence in South Asia” so that it takes the “leading role in maintaining Indian Ocean security, increases engagement with Southeast Asia, and expands its economic, defence, and diplomatic cooperation with other US allies and partners in the region”.
The 10-page document says “a strong India, in cooperation with like-minded countries, would act as a counter-balance to China.” The paper was declassified on January 5 by outgoing US National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien.
“China’s economic, diplomatic and military influence will “continue to increase in the near term and challenge the US ability to achieve its national interests in the Indo-Pacific,” it added.