Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s first major India-policy speech was “very bold and robust” and it underscored the importance of the bilateral partnership, eminent Indian-American expert on South Asia Nisha Desai Biswal has said. Tillerson yesterday said the US is India’s “reliable partner” at the world stage in this period of uncertainty and angst, sending a strong signal to side with India amidst China’s “provocative actions” in the region. It’s not a coincidence that the first major foreign policy speech by Tillerson was on the US-India relationship, said Biswal, the former Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia in the second term of the Obama administration. “I think, it’s a very bold and robust vision that also understands the importance of economics and trade in that relationship and that the US and India have an opportunity to partner to provide alternatives to what he described as some of the predatory economic behaviour by countries that has drawn concern across the Asia-Pacific,” Biswal said.
Biswal, who is joining US India Business Council as its president next week, said the partnership between India and the US creates huge opportunities for the two countries to work together on very important issues. “This is an excellent approach from India’s perspective. He has touched upon all issues that bring our countries closer, and underscored the importance of the partnership,” said Mukesh Aghi, president of the US India Strategic and partnership Forum. Rick Rossow, Wadhwani Chair in US India Policy Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that with Tillerson’s speech India has been vindicated in its stand on one belt one road initiative of China. “That’s one of the areas that I think India actually has been the conscience of the world,” he said after Tillerson delivered his major India policy speech at his think-tank. “The US in private would complain about these programmes but wouldn’t do so publicly. India was the first country to do so to avoid the Belt and Road summit, to publicly state its concerns about these development projects not just with the Pakistan economic corridor but others,” Rossow said.
“So I think, India can actually bend and shape US thinking in the region. This is really important for cementing this foundation,” Rossow said. If Tillerson during his India’s visit next week walks away with new areas of engagement and deepening cooperation ten it might raise Chinese’s eyebrows quite a bit more than one speech, Rossow said. Writing in Forbes, Alyssa Ayres, from the Council on Foreign Relations, said that on China, Tillerson “appears to have been influenced” by India’s public objections to the BRI. In his remarks, Tillerson had raised questions over the financing for infrastructure projects that may or may not be economically viable, with unclear lending terms that may create unsustainable repayment obligations, she said. According to Foreign Policy magazine, in his speech Tillerson touted the US-relationship with India as a cornerstone of the liberal international order and called it a key part of US efforts to shore up its position in the Indo- Pacific region.
The New York Times said Tillerson “made an impassioned plea” for closer ties with India while “casting China as a threat” to the world order and saying Pakistan needed to do more to fight terrorism. “China experts have been predicting for months that mutual disappointment was inevitable. Tillerson’s speech suggested that moment may have arrived, at least at the State Department,” The New York Times said.