Feature Article

Pompeo cancels Colombo visit, concentrates on US-India relations in New Delhi

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 26 June 2019, 18:41 GMT]
The US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has cancelled his visit to Colombo which was scheduled for Thursday. The US Embassy in Colombo was citing “scheduling issues” for the annulment. However, Mr Pompeo dropping his short visit had “more to do with rising local sentiments against a proposed American military base” on the island reported The Economic Times on Tuesday. The US Secretary of State was focusing more on the longer-term strategic partnership and on ironing out the trade disputes between the USA and India on Wednesday. Pompeo was scheduled to visit New Delhi and Colombo, before meeting US President Donald Trump at the G20 Summit in Japan and accompanying him to South Korea after that. While India is a major defence partner, the US has been seeking defence partnership with ‘Sri Lanka’ and three other countries, the Maldives, Bangladesh, and Nepal, in South Asia.

“ET has learnt that members of President Maithripala Sirisena’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party are opposed to the presence of any American troops or base in the island nation. The rising sentiment against US plans is understood to have shaped Pompeo’s decision to cancel the Lanka leg of the visit,” the Mumbai-based daily noted in its report.

Pompeo had planned to discuss US-proposed Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), the US description of Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) with regards to Colombo's engagement with China, counter-terrorism as well as the ‘development’ assistance pledged through the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) of the USA, informed sources in Colombo told TamilNet.

Four days after the Easter Sunday attacks in the island, the MCC Board of Directors approved a five-year, $480 million Compact with Colombo on April 25. The compact is composed of two projects: a Transport Project and a Land Project. The programme, pending Congressional approval, was to concentrate on (1) inadequate transport logistics infrastructure and planning; and (2) lack of access to land for agriculture, the services sector, and industrial investors.

* * *

US Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan released the first Indo-Pacific Strategy Report (IPSR) on 01 June coinciding with his participation in the 18th Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore which was held between May 31 and June 2.

"Within South Asia, we are working to operationalize our Major Defense Partnership with India, while pursuing emerging partnerships with Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Bangladesh, and Nepal," states the June 01 IPSR.

“Since 2015, DoD has strengthened its relationship with Sri Lanka and increased military engagements significantly, particularly with the Sri Lankan Navy. In 2017, we conducted the first port visit in 30 years by a U.S. aircraft carrier – the USS NIMITZ Carrier Strike Group – and the first ever bilateral Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Exercise. In 2019, we increased cooperation on mutual logistics arrangements in support of Indian Ocean security and disaster response,” the IPSR states.

The IPSR follows the line which was set out in the 2015 Pentagon release of the Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy.

Some of the extracts from the IPSR follow:

“DoD’s Indo-Pacific Maritime Security Initiative (MSI) – Section 1263 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for FY 2016 – was originally established as a five-year authority focused on building partners’ maritime capacity. The NDAA for FY 2019 extended the authority through December 2025 and expanded the scope of the initiative – now designated the Indo-Pacific MSI – into South Asia.

“MSI authorizes the provision of training, equipment, supplies, and small-scale construction to the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh to enhance their ability to “sense, share, and contribute” to maritime security and MDA; to create a common Regional Maritime Picture; and to empower them to observe and control more effectively their own sovereign maritime spaces, both individually and jointly.”

“In MSI’s first three years, DoD focused on enhancing information-sharing, interoperability, and multinational maritime cooperation. To increase information-sharing, DoD has connected the MSI recipient nations’ Maritime Command and Control centers through the installation of secure information-sharing networks, and Field Information Support Tool communications systems.

“MSI funding has also been used to field common ISR platforms such as an Aerostat, SABIR ISR sensor packages, unmanned aerial systems, and upgrades to High Endurance Cutter (WHEC) vessels to foster interoperability among the region’s maritime forces. For example, the Philippines and Vietnam operate and maintain their WHECs while conducting MDA missions in the South China Sea and multinational training exercises.

“With MSI support, the U.S. Navy has increased the scope of the SEACAT Exercise to make it a truly regional maritime security exercise in which partners operationalize key skills – such as interdiction – and communications systems provided through MSI. MSI has also enabled DoD to contract civilian vessels for the exercise to simulate real-world interdiction and boarding scenarios more effectively. One of MSI’s primary goals in FY 2019 is to enhance interoperability through common platforms.”

“In partnership with the U.S. Department of State, USINDOPACOM will maintain strong regional partnerships through Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI), which is the U.S. Government’s primary tool to build partner capacity to support U.N. peace operations. GPOI’s 12 Indo-Pacific partners include Bangladesh, Cambodia, Fiji, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tonga, and Vietnam. Since 2016, GPOI has supported the U.N. Peacekeeping Course for African Partners, which brings together Indian and U.S. Army instructors annually to train African peacekeepers.

“Through GPOI, we will support training, exercises, equipment, and training facility enhancements with a goal of strengthening partners’ preparation, deployment, and sustainment capabilities.”

* * *

Mike Pompeo and Subrahmanyam Jaishankar

On June 01, US President Donald Trump terminated preferential trade status for India.

India responded with increasing tariffs on 28 US goods including apples and almonds on June 16.

“Great friends are bound to have disagreements. The United States has been clear we seek greater market access and the removal of trade barriers in our economic relationship,” said US State Secretary Mike Pompeo in New Delhi on Wednesday.

Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and his US counterpart Mike Pompeo addressed the press. Mr Pompeo had earlier met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.

Indian External Affairs Minister described the meeting as a positive one in terms of harmonizing the interests and views, both as countries and as foreign ministers. Both the foreign ministers were “guided by the big picture of the relationship” on bilateral and global issues, Mr Jaishankar said.

“We had a discussion on our defense cooperation. That, again, has been a very encouraging story over the last decade or more. Today, we operate a number of American-origin platforms and other equipment. And the key point here is that if that is to continue to grow, it’s important that we display trust and confidence in each other,” he told the press.

“There’s been a steady appreciation, a steady liberalization of American laws and regulations pertaining to defense and high technology, and that’s something, again, I would thank Secretary Pompeo and the administration.”

US State Secretary Mike Pompeo said both the countries were perceiving the “big strategic opportunities”  not just as bilateral partners but as “something much bigger than that: as friends who can help each other all around the world.”

“We’ve bolstered our defense cooperation, we’ve solidified our common vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific, and we’ve grown cooperation in energy and in space and in other areas,” Mr Pompeo continued.

“The United States is committed to ensuring that India has the military capabilities it needs to uphold its territorial integrity and to confront 21st-century challenges. Completing the various military agreements we have already agreed to will help us hit that goal, and the United States is pursuing a range of efforts to meet President Trump’s commitment to shared defense equipment and technology with India, as we do with our closest partners,” he said.

“India’s own experience with terrorism is very real; we know that. As the blasts that ripped through the Sri Lankan churches last Easter Sunday have shown, terrorism is a constant in this region, and India’s ability to fight it should be second to none. Our teams will continue to work together to improve information sharing, intelligence sharing, and strengthen India’s ability to fight terrorism,” Pompeo added.

“Countries in this part of the world which have signed on to the Belt and Road projects have found Beijing’s deals come not with strings attached, but with shackles,” the US State Secretary noted.

With a busy schedule in New Delhi, Pompeo was also slated to deliver a speech at the India International Centre on Wednesday evening.

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External Links:
US Department of State : Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo And Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar At a Press Availability
The Economic Times: Mike Pompeo cancels Sri Lanka visit over anti-US base sentiments



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