Need to build guidelines and if required, red lines for Indo-Pacific: outgoing US envoy Ken Juster

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Updated: January 05, 2021 11:26 PM

"While we appreciate that India has its own historical and geographical perspective, in today's strategic landscape it may not be optimal to source equipment across a range of suppliers from different countries," he added.

Juster was appointed by the US president on November 3, 2017, to be the 25th United States ambassador to India.However, he said there has been a growing concern about interoperability of weapons systems, suggesting that New Delhi should keep in mind sensitivities of military suppliers.

Noting that the US and India are laying the foundation for a stronger Indo-Pacific architecture, outgoing American envoy Ken Juster on Tuesday said the two countries should focus on giving further “substance” to it by developing guidelines and if necessary, even “redlines” as he outlined various security threats including from those choosing “suicide vests or military incursions”.

In a farewell address days before he relinquishes his position, Juster extensively talked about key bilateral issues, including “frictions and frustrations” on the trade and investment front as also growing bilateral defence and security cooperation.

The US welcomed India’s emergence as a leading power, Juster said, adding the “close coordination” between the two sides has been important as New Delhi confronts, perhaps on a sustained basis, “aggressive” Chinese activity on its border.

“We are now building out the foundation of a stronger Indo-Pacific architecture that will enable us to tackle challenges that lie ahead. Our mission over the next five years and beyond should be to give this endeavor further form and substance to develop guidelines and, if necessary, even redlines,” he said.

This should enable all countries to prosper from a region that respects sovereignty, a rules-based order, and the peaceful resolution of disputes, in accordance with international law, he said, adding that the US and India both recognise that much of the Indo-Pacific region if not the world is depending on our efforts.

The American envoy said the two countries “purposefully” deepened the defence and security cooperation to keep the two nations safe from a growing array of threats and to provide security beyond our own borders, and suggested that the evolving international environment may require New Delhi to adjust how it expresses its “strategic autonomy”.

He said practical security needs may necessitate building closer operating relationships with a “smaller circle of trusted, like-minded partners to best preserve India’s independence of action while protecting it from coercion.”

Juster said that Washington considers New Delhi as a critical partner in preserving and expanding the peace and prosperity in Indo-Pacific region.

“We have both been influenced by the legacies of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. But we know that not everyone thinks as we do, and some choose suicide vests or military incursions. That is why the United States and India are committed to strengthening our defense and security cooperation in the words of Sardar Patel, ‘cultivating strength to challenge oppression’,” he said.

The reference to suicide vests and incursions are seen as an indirect reference towards Pakistan-backed terrorism and China’s expansionist behaviour.

Referring to trade ties, Juster said though there was a lot of good news for the economic and commercial relationship, but he would be less than candid if he did not note that there were also “frictions and frustrations” on the trade and investment front.

“Despite persistent efforts, we were unable to conclude even a small trade
package. Moreover, there are growing restrictions in India on market access for certain US goods and services, increasing tariffs, new limitations on the free flow of data, and a less-than predictable regulatory environment for investors,” he said.

He said as global firms are finding it difficult to continue operation in China, India has the opportunity to become an alternative destination, adding New Delhi may have to take certain steps to seize the opportunity.

The Ambassador also mentioned the ‘Make in India’ initiative and New Delhi’s efforts to participate in global value chains, and be an exporter to the world.

“It remains to be seen whether all of these policies are compatible and mutually reinforcing, or whether they will lead to higher tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade. The latter would limit India’s capacity to truly integrate into global value chains and, in the process, raise prices for Indian consumers,” he said.

Juster said given the size of the respective markets, there is plenty of room to expand the flow of goods and services in both directions in order for us to reach the full potential of our economic relationship.

Asserting that no country has as strong and robust a defence and counterterrorism relationship with India as does the United States, he said simply put, no other country does as much to contribute to the security of Indians and India. “Our close coordination has been important as India confronts, perhaps on a sustained basis, aggressive Chinese activity on its border”.

Asked about the possibility of the US imposing sanctions on India under the provisions of Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) for procuring military platforms from Russia, Juster said the law was not for Washington’s friends and allies.

However, he said there has been a growing concern about interoperability of weapons systems, suggesting that New Delhi should keep in mind sensitivities of military suppliers.

Juster said the US recognises that India desires to produce more of its military equipment within the country, noting that the US looks forward to its growing partnership in this effort.

“As this process unfolds, India will likely need to develop certain key capabilities with the careful use of outside procurements. This is expected to include fighter aircraft, which have the potential to transform our defence industrial cooperation,” he said.

“In our view, defense procurement should not be solely about selecting the lowest bidder, but also about recognizing quality and value over the entire lifecycle, and ensuring strategic interoperability across services – and perhaps even with other friendly forces,” he said.

In this security environment, it is worth considering how effectively one piece of equipment will integrate into a broader system and strategy, and whether a particular purchase today will pave the way for or preclude future acquisitions of more sophisticated technology, he asserted.

“While we appreciate that India has its own historical and geographical perspective, in today’s strategic landscape it may not be optimal to source equipment across a range of suppliers from different countries,” he added.

Talking about India’s inherent strength, the envoy said the country’s embrace of diversity will always be what makes it exceptional and that it has been a source of strength for “all of us”.

“It is also something to which we Americans can relate. Just as Indians have long referred to ‘unity in diversity’, Americans have long used the Latin phrase e pluribus unum out of many, one. Both the United States and India have benefited from our diverse populations, with individuals from many backgrounds contributing to all aspects of our societies. That is the promise guaranteed by our Constitutions,” he said.

“While neither of us is or has been perfect, we understand that preserving our commitment to diversity and tolerance is important to maintaining our status in the world and the strength of our bilateral relationship,” he added.

About bilateral cooperation in dealing with coronavirus pandemic, Juster said public health scientists from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention known as the CDC have supported India’s COVID-19 field response.

Hundreds of Indian graduates of CDC training programs have been at the forefront of India’s efforts, providing expertise to prevent, detect, and respond to the COVID-19 virus across the country, he added.

Juster said the US and Indian scientists are collaborating to jointly develop and test vaccines, diagnostics, and treatments for COVID-19.

“Institutions and companies from both countries are partnering to utilize India’s large manufacturing capacity for the production of approved COVID-19 vaccines.

In addition, he Juster said the US Food and Drug Administration and the government of India have worked together to ensure the safety and efficacy of medical products and to prevent the marketing of unapproved products that fraudulently claim to fight or cure COVID19.

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