US-India partnership reached unprecedented levels, says outgoing US top diplomat

[TamilNet, Sunday, 24 May 2020, 15:14 GMT]
Alice Wells, the outgoing US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, said the military cooperation between India and the US had reached unprecedented levels. The outgoing US top diplomat for South Asia was taking stock of US-India partnership and the Indo-Pacific vision in a virtual call with the Atlantic Council think-tank on Wednesday. So far, the countries have concluded the four of the five major defence-enabling agreements and that she expected the last one, the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), to be signed within the end of 2020. “It’s quite remarkable to think that the same missile defence system protecting Washington, NASAMS, will soon be protecting New Delhi,” she said.

“Perhaps, I think the most consequential example was in 2018 when we worked hand in hand with India as well as the EU to ensure transparent and peaceful election in the Maldives, which in turn has led to a strategic re-orienting of that country’s foreign policy,” Ms Wells said while listing all the significant achievements of the countries in the recent years.

“Sri Lanka” didn’t feature significantly in her stock-taking remarks or the Q&A session that followed.

China was engaged in constant aggression to change the existing status quo in the region, she said, adding that China was trying to evade responsibility and was spreading misinformation in the wake of the pandemic.

“If you look at the South China Sea, there’s a method here to Chinese operations, and it is that constant aggression, the constant attempt to shift the norms, to shift what is the status quo. That has to be resisted whether it’s in the South China Sea—where we have done a group sail with India— or whether it’s in India’s own backyard, both on land as well as in the Indian Ocean,” she said in response to a question.

The US diplomat was reiterating US position on India-Pakistan relations and the need for credible steps on the part of Pakistan to dismantle terror groups.

The strategic logic of the Indo-Pacific is now deeply ingrained in both Washington and New Delhi, she added.

The Quad, which is an informal strategic dialogue between the US, Japan, Australia and India, “is well on its way to becoming one of the premier forums of the Indio-Pacific,” she observed adding that India mattered more in the post-pandemic period.

Wells said that the phrase “Quad Plus” that surfaced during the pandemic-related teleconferencing didn’t have a military component.

The US diplomat on South Asia was looking forward to India’s upcoming chairmanship of the executive board of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

“We certainly believe that Taiwan should have a seat at the table, given its wealth of expertise,” she hinted on how the US was expecting India to get synchronised with its approach on “potential reforms to international organisations.”

The outgoing diplomat was however disappointed with the inability to reach a trade deal between the countries earlier this year.

To a question posed by Richard Verma, the former US ambassador to India, on possible issues of US sanctions related to India’s proposed purchase of a missile defense system from Russia in the past, she responded: “CAATSA very much remains a policy priority, certainly for Congress, where you’ve seen the very strong demand for implementation and concern over the ability of Russia to gain monies from these military sales that will be used to further undermine the sovereignty of neighbouring countries.”

CAATSA stands for Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.

In the meantime, Well’s remarks on Chinese “aggression” in the session as well as her criticism of “unfair lending to Pakistan” at a different press conference, both triggered condemnation from China’s Embassy in Pakistan on Friday.



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