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June 4, 2019

New US strategy excludes Pakistan

WASHINGTON: In its effort to counter China and Russia's prospective influence in South Asia, the United States has introduced a new strategy that aims to strengthen economic and military ties with different countries in the region but excludes Pakistan altogether.

The strategy announced in a lengthy report identifies five South Asian countries as new allies and partners to achieve strategic objectives and for a more dynamic and distributed presence and access locations across the region. It says that the United States seeks to evolve its posture and balance key capabilities across South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Oceania.

"Within South Asia, we are working to operationalise our Major Defense Partnership with India, while pursuing emerging partnerships with Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Bangladesh, and Nepal," the report released by the Department of Defense says.

Calling Indo-Pacific as the Department of Defense’s priority theatre, the report titled 'Indo-Pacific Strategy Report: Preparedness, Partnerships, and Promoting a Networked Region' details that the US will also continue to strengthen security relationships with partners in Southeast Asia with countries like Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia, and sustaining engagement with Brunei, Laos, and Cambodia.

The Indo-Pacific contributes two-thirds of global growth in gross domestic product (GDP) and accounts for 60 percent of global GDP. This region includes the world’s largest economies – the United States, China, and Japan – and six of the world’s fastest growing economies – India, Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Nepal, and the Philippines. A quarter of US exports go to the Indo-Pacific, and exports to China and India have more than doubled over the past decade. This is made possible by free and open trade routes through the air, sea, land, space, and cyber commons that form the current global system, according to the report.

As history has demonstrated and the future necessitates, the United States will continue to play a key role as a force for regional stability in the Indo-Pacific in support of US diplomatic and economic aspirations, the report says suggesting that to do so, "the United States must be prepared by sustaining a credible combat-forward posture; strengthening alliances and building new partnerships; and promoting an increasingly networked region. These actions will enable the United States to preserve a free and open Indo-Pacific where sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity are safeguarded."

According to the report, the National Security Strategy and the National Defence Strategy articulate the vision to compete, deter, and win in this environment. "Achieving this vision requires combining a more lethal joint force with a more robust constellation of allies and partners. Increased investments in these imperatives will sustain American influence in the region to ensure favourable balances of power and safeguard the free and open international order," the report says.

As the region grows in population and economic weight, US strategy will adapt to ensure that the Indo-Pacific is increasingly a place of peace, stability, and growing prosperity – and not one of disorder, conflict, and predatory economics. Embedding these free and open principles will require efforts across the spectrum of our agencies and capabilities: diplomatic initiatives, governance capacity building, economic cooperation and commercial advocacy, and military cooperation.

"Our vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific recognises the linkages between economics, governance, and security that are part of the competitive landscape throughout the region, and that economic security is national security," the report further says adding that in order to achieve the vision, "we will uphold the rule of law, encourage resilience in civil society, and promote transparent governance – all of which expose malign influences that threaten economic development everywhere.

“Our vision aspires to a regional order in which independent nations can both defend their interests and compete fairly in the international marketplace. It is a vision which recognises that no one nation can or should dominate the Indo-Pacific. In recognition of the region’s need for greater investment, including infrastructure investment, the United States seeks to invigorate our development and finance institutions to enable us to become better, more responsive partners."

The report states that China has made one sided and opaque deals that are inconsistent with the principles of a free and open Indo-Pacific. In 2018, China announced the inclusion of the region in One Belt One Road as the “Polar Silk Road” and emphasised its self-declared status as a “Near-Arctic State.” China is also expanding its engagement and capabilities in the Antarctic, in particular by working to finalise a fifth research station, which will diversify its presence across the continent, the report said while stating other examples that in 2018, Bangladesh was forced to ban one of China’s major state firms for attempted bribery, and in the same year, Maldives’ finance minister stated that China was building infrastructure projects in the country at significantly inflated prices compared to what was previously agreed. Furthermore, a Chinese state-owned enterprise purchased operational control of Hambantota Port for 99 years, taking advantage of Sri Lanka’s need for cash when its government faced daunting external debt repayment obligations.

"The United States does not oppose China’s investment activities as long as they respect sovereignty and the rule of law, use responsible financing practices, and operate in a transparent and economically sustainable manner. The United States, however, has serious concerns with China’s potential to convert unsustainable debt burdens of recipient countries or sub-national groups into strategic and military access, including by taking possession of sovereign assets as collateral. China’s coercive behaviour is playing out globally, from the Middle East and Africa to Latin America and Europe," the report says.

It further says that the Department of Defence supports choices that promote long-term peace and prosperity for all in the Indo-Pacific. "We will not accept policies or actions that threaten or undermine the rules-based international order – an order that benefits all nations. We are committed to defending and enhancing these shared values," according to the report.