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Washington's myopic policies on China may undercut Indo-US potential: Report

Washington [US], July 5 (ANI): Although, India-US relations are progressing at a great pace, but over the last few months, some of the Biden administration's regional policies in the Indo-Pacific have done more harm to its partners, particularly India and its geopolitical leverage in the Indo-Pacific region, a senior fellow at Pacific Forum, Akhil Ramesh stated in The National Interest piece.

As per him, the US cannot pursue an ideological and China-balancing strategy at the same time, and it has re-think its strategy to fully utilise the propelling relations.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was on a state visit to the US, where he received a rousing reception at the White House.

In a light tone, PM Modi also cheered Republican and Democratic Congressmen with his quip that he could "help them reach bipartisan consensus," referring to the across-the-aisle support India enjoys in Washington.

It is pertinent that India-US ties have grown in recent years, also under President Joe Biden. Both the White House and several members of the Biden administration, from the National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan to the Indo-Pacific Coordinator Kurt Campbell, have characterized it as the "most important bilateral relationship of the twenty-first century".

However, according to The National Interest, some of Biden administration's recent moves cut a significant departure from its predecessors until last month, returning to "Washington's old ways: myopic democratic interventions, benevolent outreach to adversarial nations, and partisan bickering." As a result of which, Washington's primary Indo-Pacific partners, India and Japan, have borne the brunt of these missteps.

Biden in a last-minute change of plans, canceled his scheduled trip to Papua New Guinea and Australia to address the debt-ceiling crisis in Washington, with Republicans stalling the Democrats from raising the debt ceiling levels.

Although, Secretary of State Antony Blinken went ahead with his trip to Papua New Guinea and signed a crucial defense agreement with the Pacific Island nation, Biden cancelling his tour was not the best messaging to a region increasingly falling under China's orbit, The National Interest stated.

Nonetheless, PM Modi went ahead with his planned schedule and turned it into an opportunity to showcase India's position on the global stage. New Guinea's president hailed Modi as the leader of the Global South.

Taking an implicit jab at the United States and China, the island-nation leader said, "we are victims of global powerplay, and you [Modi] are the leader of Global South. We will rally behind your leadership at global forums."Prior to Biden's cancellation, the Indian government had decided to accommodate his visit and cut short their visits as a courtesy to the incoming American presidential delegation.

While this was a minor setback for a coordinated approach toward Chinese expansionism in the Pacific, the Indian Ocean challenge is a more geopolitically complex Gordian knot.

Earlier in May, Blinken had Bangladesh with sanctions if the Indian Ocean state did not host free and fair elections in the 2024 poll.

But, if the sanctions do come up, India and Japan will be left in a quandary as they have consistently positioned Bangladesh as a gateway connecting the Indian subcontinent to Southeast Asia for supply chain and infrastructure connectivity initiatives, The National Interest reported.

Geographically, Bangladesh is nestled between India's state of Bengal to the west and India's northeastern provinces to the east, bordering a thin strip of land the connects the rest of India to the northeast (also known as the "chicken's neck"). Thus the densely populated country's interaction with the rest of the world is directed through India or the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean.

Both New Delhi and Tokyo have invested in infrastructure in the region and have long-term plans to invest in Dhaka's growth. Recently, Japan and India agreed to jointly develop the Matabari deep-sea port in Bangladesh to serve as a "strategic anchor" in the Indian Ocean.

The Japanese investment also plays a vital role in South Asian development. Bangladesh happens to be India's Northeast region's major infrastructure and development partner.

Japanese PM Fumio Kishida articulating his government's Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy in New Delhi in early March this year, called for increased integration of India's Northeast with Bangladesh to transform the region into a single economic zone, The National Interest reported.

Japan is also trying to capture the businesses moving out of the pricier markets of Southeast Asia, using the Bay of Bengal region. Japan's regional strategy has neatly complemented the Modi government's policies.

PM Modi transformed the older "Look East" policy into an "Act East" policy of increasing strategic and economic engagement with Southeast Asia as a countervailing force to China's involvement in the region, The National Interest reported.

Tokyo has slowly and steadily supported this transformation. A case in point is Tokyo and New Delhi hosting the 'India-Japan Act East' forum to discuss cooperation on a range of projects that will increase connectivity in India's Northeast to Southeast Asia.

According to The National Interest, because of the complex history of India's north-east, only parties interested in the long game or have a vision for the region can invest here, and Japan happens to be one of them.

Interestingly, as an extension, both Japan and India are engaging the immediate eastern neighbour to Bangladesh and India, Myanmar.

Myanmar has limited partners on the world stage, after being sanctioned by the United States. But, Japan and India have continued engagement with the military junta to prevent the nation from falling entirely under China's influence.

Here too, the Indo-Japanese interests are affected by America's sanctions, The National Interest stated.

Earlier in May, India-Myanmar inaugurated the Sittwe port in the Rakhine state of Myanmar. India supported this port to enhance sea lane connectivity between India's eastern states and Myanmar. But, due to the sanctions, Indian companies either had to depart Myanmar altogether or face global scrutiny for working with the military junta-led government.

Another concern is the increased military involvement of Chinese military of the Great Coco Islands of Myanmar, The National Interest stated citing satellite images released earlier this year.

Situated less than thirty miles north of India's Andaman and Nicobar Islands, any potential militarization of the Coco Islands by the Chinese could pose a significant threat to India's security in the Indian Ocean.

In this geopolitical equation, India cannot afford to disengage from Myanmar. And yet, US' economic statecraft is undercutting India's vital regional partnerships, The National Interest stated.

Former US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, summed up the dynamic as, "it may be dangerous to be America's enemy, but to be America's friend is fatal."The recent US steps -- dialogue in Vienna, Blinken rescheduling his trip to Beijing, official abandonment of economic "decoupling" for the less confrontational "de-risking -- have shown "signs of softening" towards China.

"Furthermore, Washington's skewed sanction policies toward democratic backsliding in a few states while calling for engagement with authoritarian China raise questions about the motives of such policies. While the United States has sanctioned Chinese officials allegedly involved in human rights abuses in Xinjiang, it continues to do massive business with Beijing. This selective condemnation only further isolates partners and strengthens Chinese engagement with the sanctioned nations," Akhil Ramesh wrote in The National Interest piece.

Director for Regional Affairs at the Pacific Forum, Rob York, called this misbegotten strategy "a holdover from America's unipolar moment that we [America] need to outgrow. America's moral authority, and the benefits of aligning with Washington, are no longer assumed but must be competed for, and sanctions must be employed far more judiciously than they have been."This type of awakening to multipolar realities of the world order should inform Washington of the pitfalls and shortsightedness of its foreign policies.

US' sanctions and other tools of economic statecraft should not be used for democratic interventions but to deter its enemies. If not, the United States will have few allies in its strategic competition with China, The National Interest piece added. (ANI)