WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo on Saturday announced the intent to provide nearly $300 million of security assistance for nations in the Indo-Pacific region.

“This includes $290.5 million to improve security relationships across the region,” State Department Spokes­person Heather Nauert said. The funding will cover projects in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Mongolia, Nepal, the Pacific Islands, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.

At a news briefing in Singapore earlier on Saturday, Secretary Pompeo underlined his “concerns about Chinese militarisation of the South China Sea” and the “importance of maintaining” a rules-based order in the region.

Commenting on the current trade war between the United States and China, he said the Trump administration “inherited an unfair trade regime, where American workers and American companies were not treated reciprocally or fairly by the Chinese.”

The administration was now making efforts to “right” this unfair policy, he added.

Besides correcting the trade imbalance, the United States is also making efforts to check China’s growing military influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

Earlier this week, both chambers of the US Congress passed a defence bill, which urged the Trump administration to “strengthen and enhance its major defence partnership with India” to counter China’s growing influence in the region.

The bill emphasised that a partnership with India should enable “strategic, operational and tactical coordination” between their militaries.”

It also said the US should work towards mutual security objectives by expanding engagement in multilateral frameworks, including the Quadrilateral Dialogue between the US, India, Japan, and Australia, to promote regional security and defend shared values and common interests in the rules-based order.

The bill asked the Trump administration to explore additional steps to implement the “Major Defence Partner” designation to better facilitate military interoperability, information sharing and appropriate technology transfers; and pursue strategic initiatives to help develop India’s defence capabilities.

The Senate version of the bill also suggested conducting additional joint exercises with India in the Persian Gulf, the Indian Ocean region, and the Western Pacific.

The same bill, however, decreased US military assistance to Pakistan from $350 million in 2017-18 to $150 million in 2019.

Published in Dawn, August 5th, 2018

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