Top American lawmakers and experts have applauded the first Quad summit of leaders from the US, India, Australia and Japan and supported the move of President Joe Biden to address the challenge posed by China in the Indo-Pacific region.
On March 12, Biden opened the first Quad Leaders' Summit held virtually and attended by Prime Minister Modi, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
The Indo-Pacific is the most consequential region for American foreign policy, with enormous challenges but also great opportunities, Indian-American Congressman Dr Ami Bera, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, Central Asia, and Nonproliferation, said on Friday.
During a Congressional hearing on America's Way Forward in the Indo-Pacific, chaired by him, Bera said from increased aggression in the South and East China sea, to the use of coercive trade measures, China is the greatest geopolitical challenge they have faced in decades.
The Indo-Pacific also holds significant promise and opportunity for the United States, in large part because of the friendship and partnership of our regional actors and organisations, he said.
The evolving situation in the Indo-Pacific region in the wake of China's increasing military muscle-flexing has become a major talking point among leading global powers. The US has been favouring making Quad a security architecture to check China's growing assertiveness.
China is engaged in hotly contested territorial disputes in the South and East China Seas. Beijing has also made substantial progress in militarising its man-made islands in the past few years.
Beijing claims sovereignty over all of the South China Sea. But Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Taiwan have counterclaims. In the East China Sea, China has territorial disputes with Japan.
Experts who testified before the Congressional subcommittee were Richard Haas, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and Former Director of Policy Planning at the US Department of State; Randall G. Schriver; chairman of the Project 2049 Institute and Former Assistant Secretary of Defence for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs; and Nadege Rolland Senior Fellow for Political and Security Affairs at the National Bureau of Asian Research.
During the hearing, Bera noted that the US and China will get more competitive in the future. However, the US desire is not to have a direct confrontation and to use the rule of law as a foundation for a strategy in the Indo-Pacific.
Congressman Stave Chabot, Ranking Member of Subcommittee and Co-Chair of the House India Caucus, queried from Schriver on how the US should partner with India for maintenance of international order in the region.
In response, Schriver said he is optimistic about the US-India relations which have grown under all administrations especially in defence during the Obama administration. India and the US have a shared understanding of threats including from China and Pakistan, which is a close ally of China, he said.
Shriver said that India can be a strong partner in Indian Ocean Region and can deter the Chinese from openly operating in the Indian Ocean. Schriver also welcomed the ongoing visit of defence secretary Lloyd Austin to India. Congressman Andy Barr, member House Foreign Affairs Committee and House Financial Services Committee called for partnership in the region to offer alternatives to Chinese technology especially in communications.
In her intervention, Congresswoman Kathy Manning supported for the US to undertake immigration reform to attract more talent including through removal of country caps in H-1B visas and liberalised student visas in STEM areas.
Hass said that the United States should collaborate with its partners to offer high-quality, sustainable infrastructure as an alternative to China's Belt and Road Initiative, possibly through a regional fund involving Australia, India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and European countries.
While India is an important partner, it is unlikely to become a formal ally. It wants to avoid a breakdown in its relations with China and will zealously guard its strategic autonomy while it focuses on managing its fraught relationship with Pakistan, its domestic development, and its border with China, Hass said.
Hass said that the announcement that the United States will work with members of the Quad to provide one billion COVID-19 vaccines to Southeast Asian nations is an innovative development and hopefully a preview of more to come.
Applauding last week's meeting of the Quad at the Presidential level, Schriver this week's two plus two meetings with Japan and Korea, and Secretary Austin's follow-on travel to India are also positive steps. The continued recognition of China as a strategic competitor and the need to partner with like-minded countries to preserve a free and open Indo-Pacific set the appropriate vision, he said.
Rolland told lawmakers that there is no Indo-Pacific in Beijing's conception. The region is in fact included as part of China's periphery.
Here too, the term itself is very telling about the Chinese perspective: China is at the center and at the top of a 360-degree peripheral zone that expands over both the continental and maritime domains. Left unclear are the exact geographic extent of this periphery and the kind of future the Chinese party-state hopes to see for it, he said.
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