Not an ally, but India is US’s key partner, says Campbell


India is not America’s ally, and it will never be so, but it is a close partner and will be the United States (US)‘s most important bilateral relationship in the 21st century, Kurt Campbell, the Indo-Pacific coordinator at the National Security Council, said on Thursday.

Kurt Campbell, the Indo-Pacific coordinator at the National Security Council (AFP)

He also said what was happening at the India-China border would have a major impact on the broader Indo-Pacific theatre.

Read here: White House official denounces Beijing for ‘provocative’ steps at India-China border

Campbell is often termed the Indo-Pacific czar in the Joe Biden administration for his critical role in elevating the Asian theatre in America’s strategic calculus and taking the Quad to the level of an apex leaders’ summit.

He has also played an instrumental role in deepening the relationship with India in the past two years of the Biden presidency from his perch in the White House. He was speaking at the Centre for a New American Security (CNAS), a Washington DC think-tank.

Campbell praised a recent CNAS report on India-China tensions — HT reported on the report on Friday and its recommendation that the US offer full support to India in any conflict with China — and said he had already borrowed specific policy recommendations from the report.

“A huge part of the Indo-Pacific equation is what is happening at 20,000 feet, in forsaken, very challenging border areas. How that plays out matters a lot about what happens in the Indo-Pacific.”

On the wider India-US relationship, Campbell said, “If you ask me what’s the most important bilateral relationship for the US into the 21st century, for me, it is the US relationship with India. I believe we are destined to work more closely together…our relationship is becoming deeper, richer and more strategically aligned.”

He added there had been an “exponential increase” in bilateral engagement in “virtually every area” and referred to the initiative for critical and emerging technologies (ICET) launched in January.

“The Indian national security adviser brought the highest-ranking group of Indian technologists ever to come to any country. They came to the US to talk about how to partner on areas going forward: we are working more on defence-related issues, on people-to-people. We want more Indian students in our universities, we want American students in Indian universities. We want university partnerships and health partnerships. We have just announced efforts to work together in space,” Campbell said, emphasising the broad agenda and rich ambition.

He then said it was important to underscore that India was a “great power”.

“India is not an ally of the United States. It will never be an ally of the United States. But this does not mean we will not be close partners and share many things. That’s how we need to understand the role India will play as a great nation on the global stage. We want to encourage that, support that and deepen this relationship.”

Campbell traced back the formation of Quad to the tsunami when four maritime democracies — India, Japan, the US and Australia — came together to respond to the tragedy.

Acknowledging that the institution “waxed and waned” since then, Campbell said that the Trump administration brought it back and held meetings at lower levels and then Biden elevated it to the leader level. Getting an agreement on this was “quite difficult” two years ago, but it has now become a normal and exciting part of the 21st-century architecture, Campbell said.

When the leaders meet in Sydney this summer, Campbell said they would review existing work.

Read here: ‘Door open… should India be interested’, says US NATO ambassador

“This is an alignment that is basically about dealing with the needs of regional friends and partners, mostly in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. We are going to focus on issues associated with infrastructure, maritime domain awareness, educational initiatives..and how to think about practical areas of common concern.”

In a nod to the concerns the Quad had generated in Southeast Asia, Campbell added after some “wariness and scepticism” lines of communication were being established between Quad and the region, and Quad’s efforts were being appreciated across the Pacific.

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