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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in his first major India-policy speech set the tone of the bilateral relationship between India and the US for 100 years, a State Department official said, observing that the talk had many audiences, including China.
"China's obviously an audience of the speech. But this is a speech, obviously, which we hope all countries in the Indo- Pacific region will take to heart, that the Secretary and the President has placed a priority," a State Department official told reporters.
He was speaking after Tillerson described India as an opportunity for the US.
"It's a speech that was designed for many audiences," the official said.
Noting that a free and open Indo-Pacific is a priority for both the President and the Secretary of State, the official said, because India is one of the anchors of an Indo-Pacific strategy, the Trump Administration wants to devote a lot of time to this country.
Tillerson is travelling to India next week. President Donald Trump is scheduled to travel to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and Philippines next month.
"So that's the reason for the speech today; there are many audiences for this. But we really view this as a speech with a global audience," the official said.
The speech on US-India relations for the next hundred years to implement President Trump's new strategy for South Asia is a culmination of several months of deliberation within the national security cabinet on the best approach to address challenges in South Asia and on the opportunities.
"The Trump Administration considers India as an opportunity and he wanted to present extended remarks and reflections on many ways that US can deepen its ties with India for the next hundred years, and how it is a critical component to a free and open Indo-Pacific," the official said.
"There is a lot of bilateral benefits that follow deepening economic, cultural, diplomatic, and security ties with India. But there are a range of benefits that also follow for the region, the Indo-Pacific region," the State Department official said.
China has risen alongside India, but China has done so less responsibly and China has undermined the international rules-based order while countries like India operate within this rules-based order, the official said.
"We obviously want constructive relations with China. The Secretary is in regular contact with the Chinese leadership. But we are not going to shrink or ignore China's challenges to the rules-based order, or where China subverts the sovereignty of neighbouring countries," the official said.
"What we like is for many decades, the US has supported Chinas rise, we have also supported India's rise, but those two countries have risen very differently," the official said.
As Tillerson said about the shared values, shared security, shared national security interests, shared economies, shared democracies, this is a great friendship that US wants to expand and deepen on all areas.
The official argued that there are good reasons bilaterally for the US and India to deepen its ties, but there are opportunities to grow the connectivity in the region.
Referring to the India-US and Japan tri-lateral in New York last month, the official said Japan is very supportive of a free and open Indo-Pacific.
"I've had many consultations with the Japanese about this. We have also talked with the Australians, and we envision a quadrilateral sort of — an anchoring the Indo- Pacific anchored by these four countries of Australia, the US, India, and Japan, he said.
While the speech was mostly about India, the subtitle of the speech was "The Foundations of a Free and Open Indo- Pacific."
"So that's what he talked about, including financing mechanisms, and he did talk about some of the predatory economics that we see in the area, and you have countries that are looking for better financing mechanisms and better partners, and we believe that countries like the US and India are those partners," the official said.
What expert say about his 'bold' and 'robust' speech
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's first major India-policy speech was "very bold and robust" and it underscored the importance of the bilateral partnership, eminent Indian-American expert on South Asia Nisha Desai Biswal has said.
"I think, it's a very bold and robust vision that also understands the importance of economics and trade in that relationship and that the US and India have an opportunity to partner to provide alternatives to what he described as some of the predatory economic behaviour by countries that has drawn concern across the Asia-Pacific," Biswal said.
Biswal, who is joining US India Business Council as its president next week, said the partnership between India and the US creates huge opportunities for the two countries to work together on very important issues.
"This is an excellent approach from India's perspective. He has touched upon all issues that bring our countries closer, and underscored the importance of the partnership," said Mukesh Aghi, president of the US India Strategic and partnership Forum.
Rick Rossow, Wadhwani Chair in US India Policy Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that with Tillerson's speech India has been vindicated in its stand on one belt one road initiative of China.
"That's one of the areas that I think India actually has been the conscience of the world," he said after Tillerson delivered his major India policy speech at his think-tank.
"The US in private would complain about these programmes but wouldn't do so publicly. India was the first country to do so to avoid the Belt and Road summit, to publicly state its concerns about these development projects not just with the Pakistan economic corridor but others," Rossow said.
"So I think, India can actually bend and shape US thinking in the region. This is really important for cementing this foundation," Rossow said.
If Tillerson, during his India's visit next week walks away with new areas of engagement and deepening cooperation, it might raise Chinese's eyebrows quite a bit more than one speech, Rossow said.
Writing in Forbes, Alyssa Ayres, from the Council on Foreign Relations, said that on China, Tillerson "appears to have been influenced" by India's public objections to the BRI.
In his remarks, Tillerson had raised questions over the financing for infrastructure projects that may or may not be economically viable, with unclear lending terms that may create unsustainable repayment obligations, she said.
According to Foreign Policy magazine, in his speech Tillerson touted the US-relationship with India as a cornerstone of the liberal international order and called it a key part of US efforts to shore up its position in the Indo- Pacific region.
The New York Times said Tillerson "made an impassioned plea" for closer ties with India while "casting China as a threat" to the world order and saying Pakistan needed to do more to fight terrorism.
"China experts have been predicting for months that mutual disappointment was inevitable. Tillerson's speech suggested that moment may have arrived, at least at the State Department," New York Times said.
Tillerson to visit Pakistan to implement Trump's South Asia strategy
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is visiting Islamabad to implement the South Asia strategy of President Donald Trump, a State Department official has said while he urged Pakistan to take "decisive action" against militant groups based inside the country.
"We are breaking from the status quo on US-Pakistan relations and the Secretary by going to Pakistan will be implementing the president's strategy," a State Department official told reporters yesterday after Tillerson delivered a major India-policy speech.
"America's relationship with India do not come at the expense of Pakistan or vice versa. The things that the US can do to help alleviate some of the tensions on Pakistan's borders around Afghanistan and in India," the official said.
"When the president gave his remarks about Pakistan, he talked about a lot of the positive aspects of the bilateral relationship. US and Pakistani military have worked together against common enemies," the official added.
"We recently had the rescue of the Coleman family," the official said, noting that people of Pakistan have suffered from terrorism and extremism. At the same time, Pakistan has to take decisive action against militant groups based in Pakistan that are a threat to the region," the official said.
"I think that we are having much more serious conversations about being a partner for achieving our priorities in the region," the official said responding to a question.
"We have many common interests and common enemies in the region when it comes to our bilateral discussions with Pakistan which was with the Secretary (of State) will be talking about (during his Pakistan trip)," the official said.
"But we have said that it is time for Pakistan to demonstrate fully that it is willing to assist the United States in its core counterterrorism goals in the region. And the Secretary will be discussing that on his trip," the State Department official said.
Tillerson's expected visit to Pakistan is not related to the release of Coleman family.
"This trip is not the consequence of that. The Secretary was intensely involved in the liberation of the Coleman family from Pakistan," the official said.