The visit is taking place despite President Trump being caught up in domestic political battles and the two cabinet principals falling out of favor with the mercurial President, pointing to the survival of a robust institutional framework in Washington. Trump has complained about both in recent weeks because they don’t ostensibly serve his domestic political purpose, but both officials have quietly gone about their business.
“Looking forward to my upcoming trip to India, Sri Lanka, Maldives, and Indonesia, for productive conversations with our friends and partners, and the US-India 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue,” Pompeo said on Tuesday, confirming the highest level talks between the two sides on October 26, exactly eight months after Trump visited India to meet Prime Minister Modi even as the coronavirus was spreading across the world. That was Trump’s last trip outside the United States.
On his part, Esper told a Washington think-tank on Tuesday that “India will well be the most consequential partner for us in the Indo Pacific for sure in this century.”
“Last year, we conducted our first ever tri-service military exercise, Tiger Triumph, with India. And in July, the USS Nimitz conducted a combined exercise with the Indian Navy as it transited the Indian Ocean. We also held our first-ever US-India defence cyber dialogue in September as we expand our collaboration into new domains. Together, these efforts will strengthen what may become one of the most consequential partnerships of the 21st century,” Esper said at an Atlantic Council webinar.
The executive push to further strengthen ties with India amid China’s relentless pressure was backed by legislative sinew with a bipartisan group of Senators, who wield foreign policy clout, welcoming India’s opening up to Australia and Japan as part of US-inspired measures to counter Beijing.
“China has opportunistically looked to expand its military footprint across the Indo-Pacific. From the South China Sea to the Himalayas, Beijing continues to use methods of intimidation and territorial aggression to test the resolve of regional actors,” the Senators said in a letter to India’s ambassador to the US, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, adding, “In response to these malign actions, the US has signaled its increased commitment to the region with the newly proposed Pacific Deterrence Initiative, which will complement the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act (ARIA) to provide a more robust military presence.”
However, without coordinated efforts among committed and capable partners, solitary actions will not sufficiently address these ever-evolving security challenges, the Senators wrote, while welcoming Australia’s inclusion in Malabar naval exercise, marking the first time that the United States, India, Japan and Australia will engage collectively at the military level since the formation of the Quad and the Quad-plus-Singapore naval exercises held in September 2007.
“From an operational perspective, the addition of such a uniquely capable and stalwart partner, like Australia, to this naval exercise is invaluable, providing increased interoperability, strengthening threat assessment abilities and enhancing the maritime roles and missions of the four naval powers,” they said.
Led by Republican Senator David Perdue, a member of Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the letter was signed among others by Senators Marsha Blackburn, Chris Coons, John Cornyn, Kevin Cramer, Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, James Lankford, Kelly Loeffler, Martha McSally, Marco Rubio, Dan Sullivan, Thom Tillis, and Mark Warner.