Key US official hails close coordination with India
Kurt Campbell said that there is a deeper recognition now that the US had paid lesser attention to the region than it should have and it was important to be honest about it
New York: The United States (US) and India are engaging with each other on geopolitical issues concerning the Pacific Islands as part of what Washington sees as encouraging levels of close coordination by New Delhi on the Indo-Pacific arena, a top White House official has said.
The remarks come at a time both are accelerating their engagement over multiple issues of mututal strategic interest, especially in the context of China’s manoeuvring in the region.
Kurt Campbell, the White House Indo-Pacific coordinator and deputy assistant to President Joe Biden, said that US looks forward to working “more closely” with India in the Pacific, and added that he had been “gratified” by the close coordination.
Campbell, often considered one of the key architects of the US’s Indo-Pacific thrust and the Quad alliance from his perch in the National Security Council, also acknowledged that there is a lack of a strategic approach from the US towards the Indian Ocean island states — which faces some of the same challenges as Pacific Islands — and there are efforts underway to remedy that.
Admitting that the US has to “step up its game” in the Pacific Islands — a recent security understanding between the Solomon Islands and China has triggered concern in Washington DC and led to an avalanche of diplomatic initiatives to woo the strategically located islands — Campbell said that the US has “strategic, moral, political, humanitarian” interests in the region.
Speaking at the Ocean Nations: An Indo Pacific Islands Dialogue organised by Carnegie Endowment on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, when asked what had changed in the Pacific Islands in the past few decades, Campbell said: “What’s most important is that circumstances in the Pacific islands are more dire. Their livelihoods are threatened. Climate change is existential. Covid hurt most of these nations substantially. The need is great.”
He added there was an “undeniable strategic component”.
“I think we have seen a more ambitious China that seeks to develop a footprint, militarily and the like, in the Indo-Pacific. That has caused anxiety with partners like Australia and New Zealand, even countries in the region as a whole. That is an added dimension to the circumstances.”
Campbell said that there is a deeper recognition now that the US had paid lesser attention to the region than it should have and it was important to be honest about it. But he also pointed to “nascent institution building”, in the form of the Pacific Islands Forum that the US supports.
“What we have tried to do with the launch of the Partners of the Blue Pacific… is put together an unofficial grouping of like-minded nations with the US, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Great Britain and some others will join.” Secretary of State Antony Blinken will host a meeting of the initiative in New York on Thursday. In addition, Biden is hosting the leaders of the Pacific Island nations for the first time in White House next week.
Responding to a question by HT on how he saw the role of India in the Pacific Islands, Campbell said, “India is an observer in Partners of the Blue Pacific. They have been engaging with us. They have strong and deep historical ties in the Pacific, in Fiji and elsewhere. We look forward to working more closely with India in the Pacific. One of the things I have been most gratified by is the close coordination with India on Indo-Pacific on a range of issues, including the island nations. I look forward to that cooperation continuing.”
When the session chair, Evan Feigenbaum of Carnegie asked Campbell whether he saw parallels between the Indian Ocean island states and Pacific Islands and pointed to what appeared like the lack of a clear US blueprint for the Indian Ocean, Campbell said that the lines of demarcation in government — with one group of people who work on Indian Ocean different from the group of people working on Pacific Islands — has been a factor.
“But essentially, some of the challenges are identical — climate change, strategic competition, big powers showing greater interest. You are beginning to see greater degree of coordination among various countries also about the Indian Ocean arena…We have seen this lack of strategic approach to the Indian Ocean and I think we are going to try to remedy that going forward.”