《TAIPEI TIMES》 Pompeo, Esper to push Trump’s anti-China message during visit to India
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at a news conference at the US Department of State in Washington on Wednesday. Photo: AP
/ AP, WASHINGTON
Just a week before next month’s US presidential election, two of US President Donald Trump’s top national security aides are to visit India for meetings focused largely on countering China’s growing global influence.
As the bitter race between Trump and former US vice president Joe Biden, the Democratic Party’s candidate, winds down, the talks this week in New Delhi aim to reinforce the US president’s anti-China campaign message.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper are to meet their Indian counterparts for strategic and security talks tomorrow, after which Pompeo is to travel on to Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Indonesia.
All of them are contending with a tug-of-war between Washington and Beijing that has intensified as Trump seeks to paint Biden as weak on China.
Trump has played up his friendship with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his re-election bid, but might have set his case back with an off-the-cuff remark about climate change at his debate with Biden on Thursday.
“Look at China, how filthy it is. Look at Russia. Look at India, it’s filthy. The air is filthy,” he said, defending his decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.
Whether offense would be taken by the Indians or whether it would affect Pompeo and Esper’s mission is not clear.
Yet, regardless of election considerations, it is a critical time in the US-India relationship as China looms large over what Washington has labeled the Indo-Pacific region.
Heightened border tensions between New Delhi and Beijing have only added to Chinese-US animosity that has been fueled by disputes over Taiwan, the COVID-19 pandemic, trade, technology, Tibet, Hong Kong, human rights, and disputes between China and its smaller neighbors in the South China Sea. Those competing maritime and territorial claims would figure prominently at Pompeo’s last stop in Indonesia.
Meanwhile, India is looking to emerge from a shell of internal issues, including unrest in the Himalayan region of Kashmir, and is keen to join a group of like-minded countries facing twin threats from China and Pakistan.
Tomorrow’s meetings come amid a flareup in military tensions between India and China over disputed mountainous border, with tens of thousands of their soldiers in a standoff since May.
India and China fought a month-long war over the region at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis in the fall of 1962 and some fear a similar confrontation before this winter sets in.
Pompeo has made no secret of the Trump administration’s desire to isolate China.
Asked about his trip, Pompeo said last week: “I’m sure that my meetings will also include discussions on how free nations can work together to thwart threats posed by the Chinese Communist Party.”
Ahead of Pompeo and Esper’s visit, US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun visited New Delhi last week and called China “an elephant in the room,” saying that Washington is keen to advance India’s interests in the region.