WASHINGTON: A bill has been introduced in the US House of Representatives to bolster America's ties with countries in Indo-Pacific, particularly India, Australia and Japan, recognising the strategic significance of the region where Washington has political, economic and security interests.
Introduced by Congressman Joaquin Castro, the "Indian Ocean Region Strategic Review Act" calls for continuing to build the US-India relationship in order to regularise security cooperation through the negotiation of agreements concerning access, communication and navigation.
As a part of the US engagement in the Indo-Pacific, it shall be the policy of the United States to strengthen engagement with the countries in the Indian Ocean region, including with governments, civil society and private sectors to promote America's political engagement with the region, it said.
The bill introduced by the Democratic Party lawmaker from Texas also seeks to promote cooperation with the US allies in the Indo-Pacific, including Japan and Australia, and major defence partners, including India and NATO allies, including the UK and France, to support a rules-based order in such a region.
The US, India, Australia and Japan are members of an informal grouping known as Quad which aims at strengthening a rules-based order in the strategically-important Indo-Pacific amidst China's aggressive actions in the region. The representatives for the four-member nations have met periodically since its establishment in 2007.
In March, US President Joe Biden hosted the first Quad Leaders' Summit held virtually which was attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
The evolving situation in the Indo-Pacific region in the wake of China's increasing military muscle-flexing has become a major talking point among leading global powers. The US seeks to make Quad a security architecture to check China's growing assertiveness.
China, which is engaged in hotly-contested territorial disputes in the South and East China Seas, has made substantial progress in militarising its man-made islands in the past few years. Beijing claims sovereignty over all of the South China Sea.
But Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Taiwan have counterclaims. In the East China Sea, China has territorial disputes with Japan. Both maritime areas in the South and East China seas are rich in minerals, oil and other natural resources and are also vital to global trade.
In November 2017, India, Japan, the US and Australia gave shape to the long-pending proposal of setting up the Quad to develop a new strategy to keep the critical sea routes in the Indo-Pacific free of any influence.