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Amid Tension with China, Mike Pence Reaffirms America's Commitment to Free and Open Indo-Pacific

File photo of US Vice President Mike Pence.

File photo of US Vice President Mike Pence.

Speaking at a virtual event organised by the US India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF), Mike Pence said that American strength first comes from its military and economy, but also from the strength of relationships.

Vice President Mike Pence on Monday reaffirmed America's commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific and said a strong US-India partnership is in their strategic interests, amid China flexing its muscles in the region. Speaking at a virtual event on the US-India ties organised by the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF), a non-profit organisation, Pence said that American strength first comes from its military and economicyy, but also from the strength of relationships.

"There's no question that that the relationship that has been forged over the years, and then under President Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has never been stronger,” he said, adding that it will strengthen the hands of those of who want to see a future of freedom in the Indo Pacific, and a future of freedom cross Asia. The Chinese military has been flexing its muscles in the Indo Pacific region and is also engaged in hotly contested territorial disputes in both the South China Sea (SCS) and the East China Sea (ECS).

China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, though Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam all claim parts of it. Beijing has built up and militarised many of the islands and reefs it controls in the region.

Both the SCS and the ECS are stated to be rich in minerals, oil and other natural resources and are also vital to global trade. Responding to a question on China, Pence said that most of the tariffs President Trump imposed on China are all still in place.

“We have ways to go before we reset this relationship and level the playing field for American workers and for American jobs,” he said, adding that Trump truly does believe that America's best posture with China, or any other nation in the world with which they are in a competitive relationship or worse, is strength. "While we saw China with the One Belt, One Road initiative, under President Donald Trump's leadership we reaffirmed our commitment to the economies of the region to America's interest and partner with India,” Pence said as he identified energy, infrastructure and space as some of the areas that would strengthen this partnership in the decades to come.

The US is at loggerheads with China over trade and industrial practices for months. The two countries are also at odds over China's decision to impose a controversial security law in Hong Kong, a former British territory, which was handed over to Beijing in 1997, and the origin of coronavirus, which US claims emerged from a bio-lab in Wuhan. "We want a good relationship with every country in the world, including China and President Trump has a good relationship with President Xi Jinping, but we going to continue to stand firm with our allies, including India, in that region (Indo-Pacific)… we want to strengthen all our ties with India," Pence said.

Pence, who is chair of the National Space Council, said that the United States is in regular consultation with India about partnership in space exploration. "We welcome that partnership and recognise the incredible innovation and technological capabilities that Indian firms and the people of India bring to that project,” he said.

India-US partnership, he asserted, is their strategic interests in the region, about the prosperity of the two nations, but it “really is about a boundless future together” with the United States and India. Pence said the four million members of the Indian diaspora across the US represent some of the best people in this country and they're creating wealth and prosperity. He said they have made enormous contributions in the incredible relationship that they have helped to facilitate and forage between the United States and India.

Asserting that India-US relationship is grounded in shared values, Pence said the relationship between the two largest democracies have grown dramatically in the last 20 years, but the best is yet to come. Pence, in response to a question, said that he truly believes that the relationship between the US and India, because much of the work that the corporate sector has done, and the work of President Trump and Prime Minister Modi, has never been stronger.

"But I really do believe that all of us continue to build the ties that bind on the foundation which we built this relationship, the best is yet to come, for the US India relationship in the years ahead,” Pence said.

first published:August 31, 2020, 23:22 IST