At a time when China’s President Xi Jinping was deftly—and some say brutally—ensuring that he stayed on in power for the next five years, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson gave a rare foreign policy speech which raised many eyebrows in Beijing. Addressing a packed audience at a Washington think tank October 18 (the same day the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China opened in Beijing) Tillerson declared the US was the answer to India’s search for a reliable partner, while calling out China for “undermining the international, rules-based order.”
Outlining the Trump administration’s South Asia policy days before his first official visit to India, Tillerson waxed eloquent on how Indo-US ties had grown exponentially in all spheres, economically, strategically and socially, before noting: “But above all, the world—and the Indo-Pacific in particular—needs the United States and India to have a strong partnership.”
According to Tillerson, China, which is rising alongside India, has done so less responsibly and at times undermined the international order “even as countries like India operate within a framework that protects other nations’ sovereignty.” And in response to a question after the talk, Tillerson said that while the relationship with China was important, “We’ll never have the same relationship with China, a non-democratic society, that we can have with a major democracy ... I don’t want to partner with these other countries that do not operate with the same values.”
China stridently protested the next day, urging the US to “abandon its biased views on China and work with it towards the same goal ... for a steady and sound China relations.” While appreciating Tillerson’s remarks, New Delhi must make it clear that it will not be coaxed into taking a position which does not align with its own clear strategic imperatives. Washington might see India as a counterweight to China, but India is too big a nation to be used by anyone for such a role.