On a recent trip to Asia, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo campaigned for support for the Trump administration’s anti-China course.
Washington’s Increasing Anti-China Focus
Amid a simmering conflict with China, India is getting military support from Washington. During the recent visit by Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper to New Delhi on Tuesday, the two states signed an agreement designed to significantly boost India’s missile systems’ efficacy.
The agreement provides that the Indian army can access high-precision satellite data from the Americans in real-time. The government in New Delhi hopes this will give it an advantage in the border dispute with China, which has escalated several times this year.
Pompeo presented himself as a helpful partner: It was a matter of working with India to counter “the threats to security and freedom posed by the Chinese Communist Party,” he said at a meeting with his Indian counterpart.
Growing US-India Defense Cooperation
With China growing in the region, India and the US have been working together more closely on defense matters for several years.
China’s and India’s relationship is strained after a fatal incident on the Himalayas’ shared border in June. For Pompeo, India was the first stop on an Asia tour that also took him to Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and Indonesia. The goal: to compete for allies in the geopolitical competition with China.
In Indonesia, Pompeo praised the country for its determined behavior in the battle for areas in the South China Sea claimed by China. Over the past few years, Indonesia has repeatedly driven Chinese fishing and patrol boats in the waters of the Natuna Archipelago out of its territory or destroyed the boats.
“All law-abiding nations reject the illegal claims of the Chinese Communist Party in the South China Sea,” said Pompeo after a meeting with his Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi in Jakarta. The US welcomed the example of Indonesia “to take decisive measures to preserve its maritime sovereignty around the Natuna Islands,” said Pompeo.
Beijing recognizes Indonesia’s sovereignty over the area but does not want to accept the exclusive economic zone – citing “traditional Chinese fishing grounds”. As early as 2016, however, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague decided that there was no legal basis for China’s alleged “historical rights” to the region’s resources.
China’s Claims Over the South China Sea
China claims practically the entire South China Sea for itself. Neighboring countries, such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan, and the Philippines, reject Beijing’s claims. However, Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno had already stressed in August that Indonesia did not want to be involved in the rivalries between Washington and Beijing.
Before Pompeo arrived in Indonesia, he had previously visited Sri Lanka and the Maldives. In the Maldives, Pompeo announced the United States would, for the first time, open an embassy in the Indian Ocean archipelago, yet another testimony of how serious Washington is taking increased Chinese influence and what Pompeo called “its lawless and threatening behavior” in the Indo-Pacific region.
Pompeo: China is a ‘Predator’
Just hours earlier in Sri Lanka, Pompeo had accusing China of being a “predator” in smaller countries by exploiting them with loans and development projects intended to benefit the Chinese more than the intended recipients.
On Thursday, Pompeo traveled to Vietnam. Here his tour concludes on Friday. Vietnam also has numerous concerns about Chinese policies in the region, ranging from Beijing’s territorial and maritime claims in the South China Sea to its development activities along the Mekong River.
Meanwhile, Beijing does not want to accept the efforts of the Americans defenselessly: like Washington, it is trying to bind the states of South and Southeast Asia closer to itself – with a charm offensive and generous offers, such as access to millions of doses of vaccine against the coronavirus.