Tillerson seeks stronger relationship with India, criticizes China

WASHINGTON- Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for stronger U.S.-India economic and military relations Wednesday in advance of his visit to the country next week and criticized China’s “provocative actions” in the South China Sea.

Tillerson rebuked China for aggression in the South China Sea, where China, Vietnam the Philippines and other neighboring countries are fighting over keeping sea lanes open and territorial rights that could give access to major oil and natural gas reserves, saying it undermines “the international laws and norms that the United States and India both stand for.”

In a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Tillerson called the United States the “reliable partner on the world stage” that India needs to achieve the shared goals for “global stability, peace and prosperity.”

“It is indeed time to double down on a democratic partner that is still rising and rising responsibly for the next 100 years,” Tillerson said.

Tillerson expressed confidence in the U.S. and India’s ability to “promote sovereign countries’ unhindered access to the planet’s shared spaces, be they on land, at sea or in cyberspace.”

While the U.S. hopes for “constructive relations” with China, hesaid, “we will not shrink from China’s challenges to the rules-based order.”

Early this year, Japan joined an existing partnership between India and the United States to conduct the Malabar exercise, an operation to test and improve naval tactical expertise in response to China’s increased presence in the Indian Ocean.

Tillerson said the U.S. is opened to extending the partnerships to include countries within the region, including Australia, to achieve a “free and open” Indo-Pacific and prevent “disorder, conflict and predatorily economies.”

Anticipating continuous economic growth in India, Tillerson emphasized the importance of an economic collaboration between both countries. “By the year 2050, India may boast the second largest economy in the world. India’s population with a median age of 25 is expected to surpass that of China’s within the next decade.” he said. “Getting our economic partnership right is critical.”

According to Tillersen, over 600 American companies operate in India, U.S. foreign direct investment increased 500 percent in the last two years, and last year’s bilateral trade reached $115 billion.

The U.S. also views India as a partner in the fight terrorism in Afghanistan and gaining regional stability, a goal in President Donald Trump’s new South Asia strategy.

“It is the obligation, not the choice, of every civilized nation to combat the scourge of terrorism,” Tillerson said. “The United States and India are leading this effort in that region.”