Trump's Asia visit through the Indian prism

By Reena Bhardwaj (ANI) | Updated: Nov 10, 2017 15:36 IST

Washington DC [USA], November 10 (ANI): As Air Force One wheels down in its next Asian stop for US President Donald Trump's 12-day visit, the United States will further unveil a new and extended Indo-Pacific policy for the region. The big idea of pushing India deeper into East Asia and the Pacific region is to only to act as a balancing power and compete against China, reveal analysts. One of the most important ideas that the President is projecting with his Asia trip is that the US is an Indo-Pacific power and is serious about its new strategy.

As part of the move, which Beijing perceives as a strategy to contain it, the US will offer not just military components, but will also include economic, geopolitical and cultural components that will emerge into a stronger Washington-Delhi strategic partnership, said Dennis Wilder, a former chief of China studies in the CIA and senior East Asia director at the National Security Council, in an interview with ANI.

Trump will present the new US vision for Asia in a speech he is expected to deliver on November 10 at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum for 21 Pacific Rim member economies that promote free trade throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

India's request to join APEC could formally be endorsed by the United States. The US will advocate India to join APEC under Donald Trump's logical extension of the Asia strategy, Dennis Wilder, an ex-CIA official reveals, "This idea has been kicking around between the US, Japan, Australia and India for a while, I think President Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have a very good relationship and when they meet in Manila they will discuss APEC. The US will take a stand and be vocal about India's participation and the importance of India joining the forum", said Wilder, now a professor of Asian studies at Georgetown University in Washington.

The support of the United States for India's inclusion into APEC will not only be seen as a major gesture towards Prime Minister Modi's government by the Trump administration, but will also be a move that would be a boost to India's economy and will give India a stronger control and a better standing in its relationship with China.

"It would be a step towards realising the United States' strategic objective of involving India more fully into the region something I think that will help India to stand with China," said Wilder.

The US is keen on expanding the Malabar naval exercises which currently include India, Japan and the US to include Australia. A meeting of the India-Japan-US-Australia quadrilateral is expected in Manila on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit. These four regional democracies would ideally like to emerge as guarantors of free trade and defense cooperation across a stretch of ocean from the South China Sea, across the Indian Ocean to Africa.

"There was a discussion that came up on the Indo-Pacific concept and the idea that there is a need to work on infrastructure, just what the Chinese are doing on the One Belt, One Road project as a competitive strategy," said Dennis Wilder in a telephonic interview.

"Indo- Pacific" is a relatively new geopolitical word game that is being played out by the US lately. Trump administration officials have started to refer to Asia as the "Indo-Pacific," rather than the "Asia-Pacific" region. A deliberate effort to change how the world strategically views the region. "The United States is an Indo-Pacific power," said a senior administration official travelling with Trump.

"We've been one since the dawn of our republic. Our security and our prosperity depend on the United States maintaining access for free flow of commerce to this region, because we're a Pacific nation."

Asked if the new policy was aimed at containing China's rise, the official said "certainly not" and instead emphasised the importance of India - which views China as a political rival and potential military threat - to US security and prosperity. "We have strong and growing ties with India. We talk about an Indo-Pacific in part because that phrase captures the importance of India's rise," the official said.

"If you look at President Trump's Asia trip so far, the phrase Indo Pacific has travelled with him.

It has clearly become the new American strategy which will find more usage in the months to come. So far there is not much resistance but neither any strong acceptance to the term. The White House is formulating a plan to realise a detailed and evenly sketched out strategy." said Wilder, the Georgetown Professor in Washington DC. Experts reveal China reads 'Indo Pacific' word play as a containment strategy and the Chinese have immediately jumped into calling the Indo-US alliance as a containment strategy because that's the easy way to knock it down.

"It's not a containment strategy, because there is a substantial amount of trade that China does with the US and also with India. Who is containing China? We are not containing China? The White House is very clear this is not a containment strategy, but it is a competitive strategy. Now, is that going to worry China if India and US get closer? Obviously it will", said Wilder a former white house official, It's unclear how China will respond to Trump's "Indo-Pacific" plan when the US president leaves the Continent.

The Chinese will watch the development in the region closely and study it. Experts don't think they have heard the last from the Chinese as yet. And onIndia, Wilder says the White House is holding meetings on the new US Indo-Pacific strategy, and sources reveal officials are talking about how to make the big idea into a reality that willdevelop by next year or so. And it depends how fast India gets engaged.

Wilder concludes, "India needs to take decisions. What Trump is doing is an invitation to India, India needs to decide how much it wants to engage in this endeavour. (ANI)

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