Washington: Warning that China’s motives to secure the South China Sea are “madness” and intended towards the Indian Ocean, a top visiting U.S. official said in unusually strong remarks that the U.S. will work to ensure India remains the “natural power” in the Indian Ocean, even as he expressed the U.S.’s commitment to help India attain membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
“As China works to secure the South China Sea as an area of strategic importance for it, it does so not with the intention of going into the blue Pacific, but with going into the Indian Ocean and broadening its presence in the Indian Ocean…. So it is certainly our intention to work with India to have a strong and comprehensive presence there,” said Thomas Shannon, the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State on Political Affairs, on his first visit to India after taking over the senior position in April.
“What China is doing in the South China Sea is madness,” Mr. Shannon said, referring to U.S. allegations that China is building military installations on reefs in the South China Sea.
The remarks, made during a question and answer session, are the strongest statements made against China by the U.S. in the recent past, and uncommon for a visiting diplomat to make in a third country. They also come amid rising tensions between India and China over the NSG meeting in Seoul which failed to induct India.
Mr. Shannon, who met Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar on Wednesday, is in Delhi for bilateral talks “to discuss a range of bilateral and global issues in support of joint U.S.-India efforts to sustain the rules-based global order,” a release from the State Department said.
Speaking to newly trained officers at the Foreign Services Institute in New Delhi on ‘U.S.-India Diplomatic Leadership’, Mr. Shannon said the U.S. was not “giving up hope” on India’s bid to join the NSG, even though “one country could break consensus” in the group, indicating that the U.S. agrees with India’s statement that “one country”, i.e. China had opposed India’s bid. “We regret that in Seoul we and India were unable to open the space necessary to allow India to get into the NSG at the moment, but we are not giving up,” Mr. Shannon said. To a specific question from The Hindu on whether India would be able to join the NSG by the year-end, so it could fulfil it’s commitment to ratify the Paris climate change agreement, Mr. Shannon said, “We have to see, this is our hope.” Adding that India and the US would have to “sit down and talk to each other and determine what our next steps will be.”
He called for closer cooperation between Indian and American diplomats. “As “natural allies,” you will more often than not have the same goals as them in third countries or multilateral settings”, adding that Indian and US missions in various countries should “plan joint demarches” and “sponsor joint resolutions” in an effort to bring ties between diplomats in line with military exercises the two countries now conduct together.