WASHINGTON: The United States seeks to formalise its closer defence ties with countries of the India-Pacific region — India, Japan and Australia — similar to something like the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) with an aim to counter China, US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun said on Monday.
He said that Washington’s aim is to get the grouping of four countries and others in the region to work together as a bulwark against “a potential challenge from China”, and “to create a critical mass around the shared values and interests of those parties in a manner that attracts more countries in the Indo-Pacific and even from around the world … ultimately to align in a more structured manner”, South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported.
Biegun made the comments while speaking with former US ambassador to India, Richard Verma in an online discussion organised by the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum.
“The Indo-Pacific region is actually lacking in strong multilateral structures. They do not have anything of the fortitude of NATO or the European Union. The strongest institutions in Asia oftentimes are not, I think, not inclusive enough and so … there is certainly an invitation there at some point to formalise a structure like this,” Biegun said.
“Remember, even NATO started with relatively modest expectations and a number of countries (initially) chose neutrality over NATO membership,” he added.
However, he cautioned that the US would keep its ambitions for a Pacific NATO “checked”, asserting such an alliance “will happen only if the other countries are as committed as the US”.
Biegun said the grouping of four countries are expected to meet in New Delhi this autumn and cited Australia’s possible participation in India’s Malabar naval exercise as an example of progress towards a formal defence bloc, according to SCMP.
India is “clearly indicating an intention to invite Australia to participate in the Malabar naval exercises, which will be a tremendous step forward in ensuring the freedom of passage and the security of the seas in the Indo-Pacific,” the senior US department official said.
The naval exercises have been conducted by the US and India since 1992 and mostly takes place in the Bay of Bengal. Japan has been taking part in this exercise since 2015. (ANI)