Why It Matters

China factor in US-India ties

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told India this week that the United States supported its emergence as a leading power, and also highlighted the growing cooperation between India, the US and Japan.

The US and India both promoted "a rule-based approach to commerce and a transparent and sustainable approach to economic development", he said, and were joined in this effort by Japan.

The three countries hold joint naval exercises and are looking to expand cooperation to include infrastructure projects in Asia.

While ties between India and the US have warmed in the past decade, the Trump administration is going all out to woo India against the backdrop of an increasingly assertive China. India has a festering border row with China, while the US is worried about Chinese assertiveness in territorial disputes with countries such as the Philippines and Vietnam.

Two major policy announcements preceding Mr Tillerson's visit chalked out an important role for India in Washington's Asia policy.

President Donald Trump in August asked for more Indian help in Afghanistan, where Delhi has already spent US$3 billion (S$4.1 billion) on reconstruction efforts. Past US administrations would have baulked at seeking a greater role for India for fear of angering Pakistan, the US' key ally in Afghanistan.

Last week, Mr Tillerson said the Indo-Pacific region needed a strong US-India partnership, and praised India while criticising China for undermining the "international, rules-based order".

The moves come at a time when India has shed its inhibitions about being seen to be too closely aligned with the US for fear of alienating its ally Russia.

While there are areas of divergence between the US and India, including on Pakistan, Mr Tillerson's visit to India has put bilateral ties on a firmer footing.

Whether these ties will deepen depends on what emerges from Mr Trump's China visit next month and the impact on US' Asia policy.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 28, 2017, with the headline 'China factor in US-India ties'. Print Edition | Subscribe