Indo-Pacific USA’s priority theatre, says acting Defence Chief

Releasing the US Department of Defence’s first Indo-Pacific Strategy Report, the acting Secretary of Defence Patrick Shanahan on Saturday highlighted the region as the United States’ “priority theatre.”

“The Indo-Pacific is the Department of Defence’s priority theatre. We have an enduring commitment to uphold a free and open Indo-Pacific in which all nations, large and small, are secure in their sovereignty and able to pursue economic growth consistent with accepted international rules, norms, and principles of fair competition,” the US official wrote in the report.

“The United States is a Pacific nation; we are linked to our Indo-Pacific neighbours through unbreakable bonds of shared history, culture, commerce, and values,” the report quoted him as saying.

Even though he held a meeting with China’s Defence Minister Wei Fenghe on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue 2019 in Singapore on May 31, the report was critical of China’s role in the Indo-Pacific.

It critiqued China for undermining the “international system from within by exploiting its benefits while simultaneously eroding the values and principles of the rules-based order.”

“With more than half of the world’s Muslim population living in the Indo-Pacific, the region views the PRC’s systematic mistreatment of Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslims in Xinjiang – including pervasive discrimination, mass detention, and disappearances – with deep concern,” the report claimed.

Washington also criticised Beijing for its continued militarisation of the South China Sea, “by placing anti-ship cruise missiles and long-range surface-to-air missiles on the disputed Spratly Islands and employing paramilitary forces in maritime disputes vis-a-vis other claimants.”

Furthermore, the US also accused China of threatening Taiwan.

“During the last decade, China continued to emphasize capabilities for Taiwan contingencies. China has never renounced the use of military force against Taiwan, and continues to develop and deploy advanced military capabilities needed for a potential military campaign,” the report mentioned.

Apart from this, the report broadly classified Russia as a “revitalised malign actor,” while labelling North Korea as a “rogue state.”

Shanahan emphasised that the United States “will not accept policies or actions that threaten or undermine the rules-based international order – an order that benefits all nations.”

Furthermore, on behalf of the United States, the acting defence chief pledged to “diligently uphold a rules-based order that ensures peace and prosperity for all.”

“DoD, in partnership with other US Government Departments and Agencies, regional institutions, and regional Allies and partners, will continue to diligently uphold a rules-based order that ensures peace and prosperity for all,” he stated.

The United States also laid emphasis on its relationship with India in the region, noting that the two countries share a “broad-based strategic partnership” which is underpinned by “shared interests, democratic values, and strong people-to-people ties.”

“The US-India strategic partnership has strengthened significantly during the past two decades, based on a convergence of strategic interests, and the United States and India continue to use their deepening relationship to build new partnerships within and beyond the Indo-Pacific,” the report mentioned.

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