India and the US are part of a number of initiatives in the Indo-Pacific region including trilateral dialogue with Japan

NEW DELHI: Republican Senator Cory Gardner has recently introduced a bipartisan legislation in the US Senate that seeks to grow US influence in the Indo-Pacific region and promote free and open markets based on international rules through a multi-faceted policy framework, a move that could strengthen India-US partnership in the Indo-Pacific region to counter-balance China's moves.

"This initiative is a generational approach that will put American interests first by reassuring our allies, deterring our adversaries and securing US leadership in the region for future generations,” said Sen. Gardner, chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cyber Security Policy while introducing the legislation.

India and the US are part of a number of initiatives in the Indo-Pacific region including trilateral dialogue with Japan (last edition was held here in April), trilateral naval exercise Malabar, also involving Japan (whose next edition is scheduled in June near Guam) and Quadrilateral (comprising US-India-Australia-Japan).

Last February, India-US-Japan also held a dialogue on building infrastructure in the Indo-Pacific region. This bill is significant amid US-China trade war and US interest to re-join Trans Pacific Partnership. Interestingly, the legislation was introduced three days ahead of the Sino-Indian Summit in Wuhan.

Senator Gardner on April 24 introduced the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act (ARIA), S. 2736, after holding four subcommittee hearings in 2017 on developing a US policy framework for the Indo-Pacific region. US Senator Todd Young (Republican) and Ed Markey (Democrat), ranking member of the subcommittee, are among original cosponsors of S. 2736, which has been referred to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The legislation would include substantive US resource commitments, including the authorization of $1.5 billion annually for five years to enhance the US presence in the Indo-Pacific, and $150 million a year for five years for democracy, rule of law and civil society support, according to persons familiar with the details.

“We believe that with this bipartisan vision for our Asia policy, the administration and Congress can be united on implementing a long-term strategy that will benefit American national security interests, promote American businesses and create jobs through trade opportunities and project American values of respect for the human rights and freedom that have made America the shining city upon a hill,” Sen. Gardner said.

The “American Leadership in the Asia Pacific” series of hearings that Sen. Gardner convened last year focused on security challenges, economic opportunities, human rights and US-China relations pertaining to the Indo-Pacific region. In a 2017 hearing on security challenges, Sen. Gardner noted that ISIS has established a foothold in the region and China has reclaimed 3,000 maritime acres since 2013.

Sen. Markey said on April 24 that rules-based international order would be “absolutely fundamental to global peace and security” in Asia. “This legislation reflects the region’s importance by addressing key challenges, including the peaceful denuclearisation of North Korea, prioritising reasonable and effective nonproliferation policies, promoting the freedom of navigation and overflight in maritime Asia, and defending human rights and the respect for democratic values,” Sen. Markey explained.

US Senator Marco Rubio (Republican), another cosponsor of S. 2736, said that it would be critical for the US to reaffirm its commitment to securing a free and open Indo-Pacific region amid “China’s increasingly assertive rise” there. 

“This important piece of legislation will do just that by creating a framework for the US policy throughout the Indo-Pacific region on several key areas including trade, promotion of human rights, counter terrorism programs and many other national security priorities,” Senator Rubio said, adding, “To ensure the arc of history bends toward a free and open Indo-Pacific, regional democracies will have to cooperate more, which is precisely what this legislation aims to foster.”