US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is on a week-long trip to Asia. Ahead of his two-day visit to India from March 21 to 23, there is speculation that New Delhi could have a ‘much bigger role’ to play in the US’ Indo-Pacific architecture.
The US and Japan on Tuesday singled out China, blaming it for coercion and aggression, and posing a threat to the Indo-Pacific region. Secretary Austin held talks with his Japanese counterpart Nobuo Kishi in Tokyo, as part of 2+2 discussions between the two nations.
“China uses coercion and aggression to systematically erode autonomy in Hong Kong, undercut democracy in Taiwan, abuse human rights in Xinjiang and Tibet, and assert maritime claims in the South China Sea that violate international law,” US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, who was also present in the meeting, said in a statement to the media.
He said the US stood with its partners to challenge any security threats in the Indo-Pacific, saying they will “push back if necessary when China uses coercion or aggression to get its way.”
After a successful visit to @INDOPACOM headquarters today, @SecDef will travel to 🇯🇵 , 🇰🇷, and 🇮🇳 to discuss the strengthening of existing partnerships and alliances with the nations' senior government leaders. #FreeandOpenIndoPacific pic.twitter.com/w1narJnchP
— U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (@INDOPACOM) March 15, 2021
Japanese foreign minister Toshimitsu Motegi agreed with this assessment, saying, “We agreed that China’s actions that do not conform to the existing international order pose various challenges to the Japan-US alliance and the international community.”
Secretary Austin had articulated his views prior to embarking on the Asia trip, and as he made it clear with his statement that “China is our pacing threat”.
As the US focused on the Middle East for the last two decades, “China has worked to build a modernized military capability,” the Secretary had said earlier. This is the first trip of both Austin and Blinken out of the country. The fact that this trip is to Asia is meant to reassure allies of America’s commitment to the region, the Department of Defense maintains.
Among the US’ QUAD allies, Secretary Austin’s trip to India is said to be the most crucial, the latest country to bear the brunt of Chinese aggression.
Pursuant to Washington’s assessment about India, Taiwan, and Bhutan being vulnerable to Chinese expansionism, the US is reportedly planning to reform the role of the Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM).
Great discussion with @Secdef, @moteging, & @KishiNobuo on the importance of a free, open, & inclusive Indo-Pacific anchored by universal values & uninhibited by coercive power. We’re committed to cooperation with Japan including as part of the Quad & trilaterally with the ROK. pic.twitter.com/37VkmiMfrR
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) March 16, 2021
According to reports, the Multi-Domain Task Force is set to become rotational and diffused and incorporate India’s role to reinforce coalition against China.
India has also increased its interoperability with the QUAD allies by conducting naval exercises, with the country to be part of France-led exercises ‘La Pérouse’ that will take place in April this year in the Bay of Bengal, along with other members of the QUAD.
India will deploy its frontline warships and P-8I maritime patrol aircraft, along with other assets, for the QUAD-plus-France exercise.
India also announced to expand exercise ‘Varuna’ with France to include the UAE in the northwest Arabian Sea, near the Persian Gulf in late April this year.
This year, France is expected to deploy its nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, FNS Charles de Gaulle, a platform, which also features the French Rafale jets.
Austin’s visit to New Delhi comes at a time when Indian and Chinese troops are working to end the Ladakh border standoff, which began in April-May 2020. He is also expected to sign big defense deals, some of which have been pending for a long time now.
Sources also said the visit will be an opportunity to enhance Indo-US relations and furthering cooperation in different sectors.
However, experts argue the US Secretary of Defence’s visit to the country will mainly focus on enhancing the role of India in the INDOPACOM architecture. As the US increases its focus on the new China challenge, building a wide network of allies is going to be a top priority for the country.
The fear among the US military is that Taiwan and India, along with Bhutan, could be the new targets of Chinese expansionism has forced a rethink of the Indo-Pacific strategy, which many analysts believe, will see India taking a greater military role in the US Indo-Pacific Command structure.
Under the Modi government, India has enhanced its military partnership with the US, signing the historic BECA agreement, which cemented the relationship between the two countries as a military alliance.
Faced with constant aggression from China on its eastern borders, the country strengthened its partnership with the QUAD countries, particularly with the US, to also enhance its own military capabilities.
Now it’s reported the country may get an even greater role under the new arrangement when the Secretary of Defence reaches India.