US Vice-President Pence meets leaders of India, Vietnam and Myanmar on sidelines of Asean summit

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi shakes hands with US Vice-President Mike Pence at their bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the Asean Summit in Singapore on Nov 14, 2018.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi shakes hands with US Vice-President Mike Pence at their bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the Asean Summit in Singapore on Nov 14, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - US Vice-President Mike Pence and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi discussed regional security, defence and trade in a meeting on Wednesday (Nov 14) on the sidelines of the Asean summit.

"The two leaders reiterated the importance of the US-India strategic partnership and of advancing our shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific," the White House said in a statement.

Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale, in his briefing to the media, said Mr Modi had suggested that India's vision of an Asean-centred Indo-Pacific, presented during his address at the Shangri La Dialogue in June, had gained traction and could be advanced at Thursday's East Asia Summit in which both leaders will participate.

"We conveyed to Vice-President Pence that this vision of Indo-Pacific was gaining acceptability and that we should utilise the upcoming East Asia Summit to further build up on that," said Mr Gokhale.

Under President Donald Trump, the United States has pushed for a "free and open" Indo-Pacific partly in response to China's growing footprint in the region.

But India remains wary of being drawn into any US strategy that might involve the containment of China, although the two nations have stepped up bilateral defence ties and military exercises.

Mr Modi also asked the US to explore making defence equipment in India not just for its own market but with an eye on regional markets. They also discussed counter-terrorism cooperation and ways to boost trade, with India indicating interest in expanding the newly initiated imports of oil and gas from the US, currently valued at US$4 billion (S$5.5 billion).

 
 
 

Mr Pence also had bilateral discussions with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, affirming their growing relationship and the US commitment to "free and open South China Sea".

In a reading after the meeting, the White House said: "Noting the 25th anniversary of normalised diplomatic relations in 2020, they agreed to strengthen bilateral cooperation across economic and security realms, including by addressing barriers to trade and by enhancing maritime security cooperation in the South China Sea."

Vietnam, along with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan, is contesting China's claims in the South China Sea. The country claims most of the waterway, through which about US$5 trillion in seaborne trade passes each year.

On Wednesday, Mr Pence also met Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi and expressed grave concern over the violence against the country's Rohingya Muslims.

The Myanmar army is accused of human rights abuses against the Rohingya during an offensive last year, which triggered nearly a million to flee across the border to Bangladesh. But Myanmar has denied this, saying it carried out legitimate counterinsurgency operations.

In her remarks, Ms Suu Kyi, a former Nobel Peace Prize winner, said there were different points of view on the issue.

"We understand our country better than any other country does," she said.