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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2856

Sri Lanka! Take stock of U.S. military engagement in Indo-Pacific

By Daya Gamage – Asian Tribune Political Analysis
Washington, D.C. 22 January (Asiantribune.com):

wo significant developments occurred last week – to be exact on January 14 – if Sri Lanka bothers to take serious note because of the two events’ implications to this South Asian nation which Washington considers strategically located in the Indo-Pacific region and US official documents have already named Sri Lanka as a “Willing Partner”.

One: the official visit to Sri Lanka of President Trump’s point person for South Asia, his trusted nominee in the most-vital National Security Council, Lisa Curtis, in what Asian Tribune learned from ‘an insider’ only travels to another nation if Trump had put that nation on his agenda or has some serious concern about that nation.

Two: If Sri Lanka ever bothered to find out the significance of the U.S. Senate ratification – with unanimous consent – of Indo-Pacific Cooperation Act of 2019 giving a well-intended open message to every nation in that region, China as well as literal nations such as Sri Lanka.

The third is: The Indian authorities wouldn’t have been unaware that both occurred on January 14 everything to do with the militarization of the Indo-Pacific region targeting the Peoples Republic of China.

The significance of Washington sending Lisa Curtis is – as well known to us in the Asian Tribune which generally monitors the trajectory of the Trump administration, its foreign policy approaches and defense maneuvers – that the administration since its advent in January 2017 has put the State Department’s role and influence secondary to that of the White House National Security Council. Ms. Curtis is the Trump White House official who has more authority on policy formulation for the South Asian region than Alice Wells who accompanied her to Colombo.

Examine the photograph taken when Curtis, Wells and Teplitz meeting President Gotabaya Rajapaksa: this writer’s familiarity with State Department and White House protocol sees in that photograph Ms. Lisa Curtis sitting closer to Mr. Rajapaksa, and the other two farther behind. The official who works in the Trump White House with the responsibility of overseeing South Asia - Lisa Curtis – is undoubtedly the messenger of the U.S. president.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka shouldn’t miss the text of the Indo-Pacific Cooperation Act of 2019 ratified by the US Senate – un-opposed – January 14 as it is a message rather than enacting a law. Washington’s trajectory in the Indo-Pacific region following the cementing of defense/military bond between the United States and India at the 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue in Washington on December 18 is well and clearly displayed in this Act.

The United States’ aim or objective, as the Act pronounces -

“To expand military, diplomatic and economic alliances and partnership in the Indo-Pacific region and with Europe and like-minded countries around the globe that are critical to effect competition with the People’s Republic of China” had derived from the following geo-political understanding the Act eloquently and forcefully declare:

(Quote) The People's Republic of China is leveraging military modernization, influence operations, and predatory economics to coerce neighboring countries to reorder the Indo-Pacific region to the advantage of the People's Republic of China.

As the People's Republic of China continues its economic and military ascendance, asserting power through a whole of government long-term strategy, the People's Republic of China will continue to pursue a military modernization program that seeks Indo-Pacific regional hegemony in the near - term and displacement of the United States to achieve global preeminence in the future.

The People's Republic of China uses economic inducements and penalties, influence operations, and implied military threats to persuade other countries to heed the political and security agenda of the People's Republic of China. United States allies and partners are critical to effective competition with the People's Republic of China. (End Quote)

The Act clearly gives Washington’s mind-set which is reflected in the Indo-Pacific Cooperation Act of 2019.

Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval met with President Rajapaksa January 18 in Colombo, and the media release said that the cordial discussions included the two countries’ interest in better military to military corporation and maritime security. In what region? Indo-Pacific.

The question is how and in what manner the United States fits into this arrangement as US has already signed an expanded 83-page Acquisition and Cross-Services Agreement (ACSA) with Sri Lanka in August 2017, and the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) which effectively activates ACSA allowing American military boots on Sri Lankan soil is now under scrutiny.

New Delhi has access to a much higher level of U.S. defense technology following the two countries defense arrangements at two Ministerial Dialogues, one in September 2018 in New Delhi and the other most recently on December 18 last year in Washington. And India has taken other visible steps to become a core security partner anchoring the South Asia region.

Both Washington and New Delhi are effecting the defense/military arrangements to counter China’s expansionist policy in the Indo-Pacific region.

What bothered both countries to cement a ‘military bond’ are the Chinese moves such as:

• Active naval operations, primarily anti-piracy submarine missions off the African coast;

• Strategic infrastructure financing, including of Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka, Gwadar Port in Pakistan, and Kyaukpyu in Myanmar;

• Increasing military presence, notably the naval port and extensive military facilities in Djibouti;

• Economic cooperation, including the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and investments in Nepal, Myanmar, Maldives and Sri Lanka.

The December 18, 2019 US-India Ministerial Dialogue in Washington, Arrival of President Trump’s National Security Council official Lisa Curtis on January 14 in Sri Lanka for official talks, the US Senate ratifying Indo-Pacific Cooperation Act of 2019, Washington’s recognition of Sri Lanka’s geo-strategic importance and Washington-documents declaring Sri Lanka as a ‘Willing Partner” in its endeavor in the Indo-Pacific, the U.S. military expansion in the region since the advent of President Trump’s administration, India’s interest in bringing Sri Lanka to a closer military cooperation are well interconnected to, what American Ambassador Alaina Teplitz declared last year, while dismissing that the US was planning to establish a base, that Sri Lanka could become a US military hub.

- Asian Tribune -

 Mr. Trump with Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India in September  in Houston, USA
 President Gotabaya Rajapaksa met with Indian PM Narendra Modi in New Delhi in December
Trump White House official for South Asia in the National Security Council Lisa Curtis (right) talking to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa with Alice Wells, Assistant Secretary for South-Central Asian Affairs of the State Department and U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka Alaina Teplitz when they met the President on January 14
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