In what might turn out to be the Trump Administration’s last week in office, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo swung through three Indian Ocean countries after the 2+2 US-India talks in New Delhi earlier this week, bringing the China-US spat to India’s doorstep. From New Delhi, where he and Defence Secretary Mark Esper held talks with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Pompeo peeled off on an openly anti-China tour of the Indian Ocean, now geographically part of the larger Indo-Pacific region.
Why Indo-Pacific matters
It is a vast area where the US and China have competed for influence for years, and where, more recently, Indian and Chinese interests have come up against each other, specifically in Sri Lanka and Maldives.
After years of trying to regain a slipping foothold in these countries by itself without taking sides in the larger geopolitical rivalry, at times even pushing back on US attempts to expand its footprint in its immediate Indian Ocean neighbourhood, New Delhi now appears not to mind the playing out of the superpower rivalry close home, hoping it will help to reduce Chinese influence in the region.
With its military eyeballing Chinese soldiers at the Line of Actual Control, India has embraced a closer relationship with the US, as well as stepped up US engagement in the region.