NEW DELHI • US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is flying to India this week to strengthen strategic ties with a nation that is locked in a military stand-off with China, in Washington's latest effort to bolster allies against Beijing.
As part of an intensifying pushback against China's growing economic and military power in the region, Mr Pompeo will also travel to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, two Indian Ocean countries struggling with a mountain of Chinese debt incurred to finance big infrastructure projects. He will conclude his trip in Indonesia, which is also locked in territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea.
"We're looking forward to strengthening critical relationships with our friends and partners, emphasising our deep commitment to the Indo-Pacific and advancing our vision for long-term partnership and prosperity in the region," said Mr Dean Thompson, principal deputy assistant secretary at the State Department's Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs.
Washington has been ramping up diplomatic pressure on Beijing ahead of the Nov 3 US presidential election.
Mr Pompeo this month led the Quad meeting of foreign ministers from India, Japan and Australia, a grouping that the United States envisions as a bulwark against China's growing assertiveness in the region.
"This is more about real foreign policy than domestic politics," said Mr Gregory Poling, maritime security expert at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
"Yes, Pompeo's anti-China rhetoric is largely about the election, but State's broader push to strengthen the Quad, tighten relations with Taiwan, heighten attention on the South China Sea and more, are being driven as much by the policy professionals as the politicians."
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian on Friday said the US was bullying countries into picking sides over their links to China, but that such efforts would not succeed.
During Mr Pompeo's trip, India is expected to sign an agreement that will give it access to sensitive US satellite data to help improve targeting of missiles and drones, Indian officials said.
And in what will be the first visit by the US' top diplomat to Sri Lanka in more than a decade, Mr Pompeo will advise leaders in Colombo to scale back dependence on China, which has invested billions of dollars building ports and highways but left the island nation in debt, Mr Thompson said.
Mr Pompeo's final stop, in Indonesia, comes amid an escalating US-China rivalry that is being vigorously contested in South-east Asia, especially in the South China Sea, which China claims as almost entirely its own territory.
The claim is opposed by many states in the region, including Indonesia.