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Pompeo, Esper Push Anti-China 10/25 10:09

   

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Just a week before November's election, two of President 
Donald Trump's top national security aides will visit India for meetings 
focused largely on countering China's growing global influence. As the bitter 
race between Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden winds down, the talks 
this week in New Delhi aim to reinforce the president's anti-China campaign 
message.

   Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper will meet 
their Indian counterparts for strategic and security talks on Tuesday, after 
which Pompeo will travel on to Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Indonesia. All of 
them are contending with a tug-of-war between Washington and Beijing that has 
intensified as Trump seeks to paint Biden as weak on China.

   Trump has played up his friendship with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi 
in his re-election bid but may have set his case back with an off-the-cuff 
remark about climate change at his Thursday debate with Biden. "Look at China, 
how filthy it is. Look at Russia. Look at India, it's filthy. The air is 
filthy. " he said, defending his decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate 
Accord.

   Whether offense will be taken by the Indians or whether it will affect 
Pompeo and Esper's mission is not clear. Yet, regardless of election 
considerations, it is a critical time in the U.S.-India relationship as China 
looms large over what Washington has labeled the Indo-Pacific region.

   Heightened border tensions between New Delhi and Beijing have only added to 
Chinese-American animosity that has been fueled by disputes over the 
coronavirus, trade, technology, Taiwan, Tibet, Hong Kong, human rights and 
disputes between China and its smaller neighbors in the South China Sea. Those 
competing maritime and territorial claims will figure prominently at Pompeo's 
last stop in Indonesia.

   Meanwhile, India is looking to emerge from a shell of internal issues, 
including unrest in the Himalayan region of Kashmir, as it faces twin threats 
from China and Pakistan.

   Tuesday's meetings come amid a recent flareup in military tensions between 
India and China over disputed mountainous border with tens of thousands of 
their soldiers in a standoff since May. Trump has has offered to help defuse 
tensions but has yet to receive any indication of interest from either side. 
India and China fought a month-long war over the region at the height of the 
Cuban Missile Crisis in the fall of 1962 and some fear a similar confrontation 
before this winter sets in.

   Pompeo has made no secret of the Trump administration's desire to isolate 
China. Asked about his trip, Pompeo said last week: "I'm sure that my meetings 
will also include discussions on how free nations can work together to thwart 
threats posed by the Chinese Communist Party."

   Ahead of Pompeo and Esper's visit, Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun 
visited New Delhi last week and called China "an elephant in the room," 
stressing that Washington is keen to advance India's interests in the region, 
build a free and open Indo-Pacific, and counter risks posed by Chinese 
high-tech telecommunication networks that the U.S. sees as central to China's 
predatory economic activity.

   "We will take every opportunity to really advocate for a strong digital 
economy and partnership in the countries where we're going and seek support of 
the Clean Networks, which we think works to every country's advantage," said 
Dean Thompson, the top U.S. diplomat for South Asia.

   Since Trump became president, the U.S. and India have steadily ramped up 
their military relationship. When Trump visited India in February, the two 
sides concluded defense deals worth over $3 billion. Bilateral defense trade 
has increased from near zero in 2008 to $15 billion in 2019.

   Still India is wary of being drawn into the fight between the world's two 
largest economies. G. Parthasarthy, a retired Indian diplomat, said India was 
not interested in becoming a front-line state against China. "It is a move to 
balance the growing Chinese power in this area. The India-China border issue is 
not going to go away with the Chinese claims increasing," he said.

   The talks in New Delhi on Tuesday follow a meeting that Pompeo had earlier 
this month in Tokyo with his counterparts from India, Japan and Australia, 
which together make up the four Indo-Pacific nations known as "the Quad." The 
Quad is seen as a counterweight to China, who critics say is flexing its 
military muscle throughout the region.

   Pompeo will head back to Washington by way of Sri Lanka, the Maldives and 
Indonesia during which he plans to press each nation to push back in Chinese 
assertiveness. He's also expected to raise human rights issues at each stop

 
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