At ASEAN Plus, US attempts to corral India into confronting China

At ASEAN Plus, US attempts to corral India into confronting China

Today marks the second day of the ASEAN-Plus defence ministers meetings between the 10 ASEAN states and eight major powers with geostrategic interests in South East Asia—mainly the US, China, Russia, India, and Japan. To date, China has frustrated any joint ASEAN statement against its interests in the South China Sea by allying with Cambodia and Laos,

Indian warship

Photo: Indian Navy

Today marks the second day of the ASEAN-Plus defence ministers meetings between the 10 ASEAN states and eight major powers with geostrategic interests in South East Asia—mainly the US, China, Russia, India, and Japan.

To date, China has frustrated any joint ASEAN statement against its interests in the South China Sea by allying with Cambodia and Laos, thereby splitting the forum. Recently, the Philippines, a traditional US ally, has pivoted towards China under its new leader, Rodrigo Duterte.

Today’s deliberations will likely see day two of the Americans pivot to India. Top of the agenda for US Defence Secretary James Mattis is a meeting with Indian counterpart Nirmala Sitharaman. Washington has courted New Delhi with prospective arms deals. The aim is for India, a growing power, to become a regional counter-weight against China in the region. India supports international law guaranteeing “freedom of navigation” in the South China Sea.

The move reinforces the Trump administration’s beliefs in bilateralism over multilateralism. Expect to see the Indian military play a much greater role in the region, including the South China Sea, in the coming years.

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