by Indrani Bagchi

NEW DELHI: India has “demonstrated it has the will and the capabilities to stand up to China,” said Lisa Curtis, deputy assistant to President Donald Trump and Director of the US National Security Council’s South and Central Asia Bureau. In remarks to US think tank, Brookings Institution, the senior White House official said, China's "recent aggressive stance at LAC in Ladakh fits with the larger pattern of PRC aggression in other parts of the world.”

The US, on the other hand, supports India’s rise as a power and a net security provider in the Indian Ocean “and beyond.”

In the current India-China crisis, Curtis said, India “played the economic card by banning Chinese apps and putting a hold on Chinese investment contracts. And I think the rest of the Indo-Pacific region is watching this very carefully,” adding that the region would be “encouraged by India’s resolve.”

The US — both the Trump administration and the US Congress, have openly supported India in the current crisis with China. On July 21, the US House of Representatives unanimously passed an amendment to the National Defence Authorization Act (NDAA), slamming China's aggression against India in Galwan Valley and its growing territorial assertiveness in and around disputed areas like the South China Sea. The bipartisan amendment, piloted by Steve Chabot (R) and Ami Bera (D) stated Congress' opposition to Chinese aggression against India in the Galwan Valley on the India-China border, and expresses its concern toward the growing territorial assertiveness of China.

Yesterday, Curtis said, few countries are more familiar with China’s “malign influence” than India, but "thankfully...beginning to see disengagement of Chinese & Indian forces after a few very tense weeks...but...the pressure that China put on India on the LAC will have a long-term impact on how India views the relationship. It will change the dynamics between the two countries”, she observed.

Twenty-five years ago China did not take India seriously, she said. India was seen as “inward-looking and lagging in its economic indicators.” Fifteen years ago, as India’s growth and military capabilities began taking off, there was a time when both countries thought India and China would work together and “usher in a new Asian century.” From about 2010 or so differences over the long standing border dispute re-emerged and each side became “uncomfortable” with the rise of the other. China’s influence in India’s neighbourhood, such as in Sri Lanka, Maldives and Nepal, moved from economic to “more and more interference in domestic politics.”

Cautioning that the US “must view China as it is, not as we would wish it were”, she said, "India has been a sceptic of the BRI from the beginning...they did not send a representative to the BRI conference in 2017. I think their early scepticism of this effort is really bearing out. They seem fairly prescient right now.”

The US-India partnership, she said, “is about much more than economics and security. It’s also about the democratic traditions that have made both of our countries more prosperous and secure.” Ms. Curtis said there would be a deepening of the U.S.-India partnership based on a commitment both countries have to an open and transparent region in the Indo Pacific. “ You will see more of a focus on building up that relationship and also ensuring that the other nations of South and central Asia can maintain their own sovereignty and they have choices and alternatives to China.”

In comparison, the China-Pakistan relationship has grown much closer with the CPEC. “Chinese pledges for CPEC now exceed $60 billion, but CPEC is not foreign aid, nor is it the equity investment that drove China’s own development,” she said. “CPEC is financed by sovereign debt and needs to be paid back. The risk is borne by the Pakistani people. Yet the benefits accrued primarily to the Chinese Communist Party,” she said.