Tillerson's speech a significant policy statement on ties with US: India

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. File photo
India has described Wednesday's speech by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson as a "significant policy statement on India-US relations and its future". Tillerson is scheduled to visit India next week.

A statement from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on Friday hailed the speech and also sought to underline the congruence of views between India and the US on China's assertiveness in the South China Sea, as well as New Delhi and Washington DC's misgivings over Beijing's 'One Belt, One Road' (OBOR) infrastructure project.

South Block sources said that OBOR, the South China Sea, and even the Doklam military standoff between India and China could come up during the US Secretary of State's discussions with the Indian leadership.

In his speech on October 18 to a think tank, Tillerson said US is India's "reliable partner". He criticised China for "provocations" in the South China Sea and also its "predatory economics" through its OBOR initiative.

Advocating stronger India-US relations for the next 100 years, Tillerson said China, while rising alongside India, has done so less responsibly. He said that "in this period of uncertainty and somewhat angst, India needs a reliable partner on the world stage". He said the US is that partner.

While Beijing criticised Tillerson for his "biased views", the MEA said in New Delhi on Friday: "Secretary Tillerson has made a significant policy statement on India-US relations and its future. He brought out its various strengths and highlighted our shared commitment to a rule-based international order."

"We appreciate his positive evaluation of the relationship and share his optimism about its future directions. We look forward to welcoming him in India next week for detailed discussions on further strengthening of our partnership," the MEA said on Friday.

In his five-nation, week-long tour next week, Tillerson is scheduled to visit India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Switzerland. His first stop will be Saudi Arabia where he will meet leaders to discuss Yemen, the ongoing Gulf crisis, Iran and a number of other important regional and bilateral issues, State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert said in Washington on Friday.

Nauert said Tillerson will then make his inaugural visit to South Asia as Secretary of State, reaffirming the Trump administration's comprehensive strategy towards the region.

In Islamabad, he will meet with senior Pakistani leaders to discuss America's continued strong bilateral cooperation, Pakistan's critical role in the success of US President Donald Trump's South Asia strategy and the expanding economic ties between the two countries, she said. The exact dates of his visits to Islamabad and New Delhi are yet to be announced.

In New Delhi, Tillerson will meet with senior Indian leaders to "discuss further strengthening of our strategic partnership and collaboration on security and prosperity" in the Indo-Pacific region, Nauert said.

In his speech on Wednesday, Tillerson said Beijing has, at times, undermined the international, rules-based order even as countries like India operate within a framework that protects other nations' sovereignty. "China's provocative actions in the South China Sea directly challenge the international law and norms that the United States and India both stand for," he said.

He said that while the US seeks constructive relations with China, it will not shrink from Beijing's challenges to the rules-based order and where China subverts the sovereignty of neighbouring countries and disadvantages the US and its friends.

Tillerson said his visit to New Delhi next week "could not come at a more promising time for US-Indian relations and the US-India partnership".

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