Trump to call for ‘free and open’ Indo-Pacific region during Asia visit, India will be watching
Though not a littoral state, India is wary of Chinese claims on the South China Sea, which accounts for a third of global maritime trade, and has joined calls for all countries involved to respect freedom of navigation.world Updated: Oct 16, 2017 21:32 IST
The White House on Monday said US President Donald Trump will raise the necessity for freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific region during his upcoming Asia trip, an issue that has been raised by India repeatedly in recent years.
There is also a possibility of Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi meeting on the sidelines of the Asean Summit in Manila — scheduled for November 13-14 — which the Indian leader is expected to attend, sources said. Though there has been no announcement by either party, a pull-aside or a longer, more elaborate meeting can take place.
Trump has bilateral meetings on his schedule, but only one was announced — with President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, the host nation.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump’s trip will underscore “his commitment to longstanding United States alliances and partnerships, and reaffirm United States leadership in promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific region”.
Trump will address the issue more specifically at the summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in Danang, Vietnam. “In the speech, the president will present the United States’ vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific region and underscore the important role the region plays in advancing America’s economic prosperity,” Sanders said.
Vietnam is one of the six countries engaged in long-standing disputes over ownership of mineral-rich islands in the South China Sea, which Beijing has claimed in its entirety.
The US has tested those claims, sending naval ships and air force flights through the region by asserting freedom of navigation, and raising tensions every few months.
Though not a littoral state, India is wary of Chinese claims on the South China Sea, which accounts for a third of global maritime trade, and has joined calls for all countries involved to respect freedom of navigation. In a joint statement issued after Modi and Trump met in June, India and the US “reiterated the importance of respecting freedom of navigation, overflight, and commerce throughout the region” and called “upon all nations to resolve territorial and maritime disputes peacefully and in accordance with international law”.
Earlier reports had claimed India and the US were considering joint naval patrols in the South China Sea. Though this eventually did not come to be, it rattled China enough to respond with a warning that “countries from outside the area must stop pushing forward the militarization of the South China Sea”.
When Trump raises the issue at the APEC summit during his upcoming Asia tour, his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping might be in the audience. The two leaders will also have had the opportunity to discuss it during their meetings in Beijing, which Trump will visit on November 8.