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Countering China? Ahead of Modi-Trump meeting, emphasis on peace, stability in Indo-Pacific region

India, the US, Australia and Japan have stressed on a “free and inclusive” Indo-Pacific. Narendra Modi and Donald Trump are expected to discuss a common strategy for the region on Monday.

india Updated: Nov 12, 2017 23:46 IST
Jayanth Jacob
Jayanth Jacob
New Delhi, Hindustan Times
Narendra Modi,Donald Trump,ASEAN
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with US President Donald Trump, Japanese PM Shinzo Abe and other world leaders at an ASEAN Summit dinner in Manila on Sunday.(PTI)

A day ahead of a meeting between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump in Manila, the two countries along with Japan and Australia on Sunday stressed on a “free and inclusive” Indo-Pacific region, signalling a broader alliance to counter China.

Modi arrived in the Philippines’ capital on Sunday for a three-day visit during which he will attend the 15th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean)-India summit and the 12th East Asia meet on Tuesday.

But ahead of the two meetings, Modi and Trump, who met briefly at an Asean dinner on Sunday, would discuss counter-terrorism, trade and the security situation in the Indo-Pacific region, where China has been expanding its military presence, sources said.

“The two leaders are expected to discuss the common strategy for Indo-Pacific, a great deal of which figured in Sunday’s meeting (of the quadrilateral),” an official said in New Delhi on Sunday.

Seen as a first major move towards the quadrilateral security dialogue, or the “quad”, the first meeting between officials from the four countries stressed on cooperation for promoting peace and stability in an increasingly inter-connected region, a release issued after the meeting said.

A free, prosperous and inclusive Indo-Pacific region would serve the long-term interests of all countries in the region and of the world at large, it said.

The term Indo-Pacific gained currency recently, with its usage growing across diplomatic and security circles in US, Australia, India and Japan. Beijing prefers “Asia-Pacific” but to many the term placed an authoritarian China too firmly at the centre.

Trump and his officials used the term repeatedly through his five-nation tour that concludes in Manila. In fact, White House recently described the alliance as a “linchpin for stability, security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific”.

China’s One Belt, One Road plan to build a new Silk Route through a network of roads, rails and ports has caused a concern, with Japan proposing a similar project with India and US.

The US and Japan have also been pushing for a deeper Indian role in the region.

Addressing a group of CEOs on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam on Friday, Trump cited India as one of the countries in the “Indo-Pacific region making strides”.

“This should be seen as a regional architecture of India, Japan, Australia ably assisted by Washington in diverse areas such as connectivity, maritime and counter terrorism cooperation with an aim to check the Chinese influence,” said Sachin Chaturvedi, director general of the Research and Information System for Developing Countries, a New Delhi-based think tank.

The views found an echo in Washington.

“The return of the Quad is a big geopolitical win for both the US and India. And it only brings them closer,” tweeted Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert with Wilson Center, a think tank.

Modi and Trump were also expected to discuss designation of terrorists by the United Nations as well as the US, sources said.

China has repeatedly blocked India’s efforts to get Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar included in UN sanctions list, which would lead to a travel ban, freezing of assets and other step that would cripple his ability to carry out terror strikes.

“This issue continues to be of utmost importance to us. In their last meeting in Washington two leaders took up this particular issue and they would be discussing this and other counter-terrorism related issues,” an Indian official said.

India needed the help of US and other countries to highlight the threat it faced from Pakistan-based terrorist outfits, said Lalit Mansingh, a former foreign secretary.

“And this persuasive approach is needed to bring the world’s attention to the issue of cross-border terrorism and safe havens for terrorists that threat regional peace and stability in the region,” India’s former envoy to the US said.

India’s “Act East” policy and stronger collective approach to fighting terrorism would be the focus during Modi’s discussions at the Asean and EPC meetings, officials said.

India also offered to host an international conference to counter radicalisation, a worry faced by several countries of the region.

(with inputs from Yashwant Raj in Washington)

First Published: Nov 12, 2017 20:43 IST