Pompeo, Esper to Visit India to Bolster Ties, Counter China

WASHINGTON—Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper are set to visit New Delhi next week, part of an effort to cement U.S. strategic and military ties with India in their mutual rivalry with China.

Besides India, Mr. Pompeo will also visit Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Indonesia, he told reporters Wednesday at the State Department.

In New Delhi on Monday and Tuesday, Messrs. Pompeo and Esper are set to meet their Indian counterparts, part of a “2+2” dialogue expected to cover everything from military exercises to diplomatic efforts around Asia.

“The agenda for the third Dialogue will cover all bilateral, regional and global issues of mutual interest,” the Indian foreign ministry said Wednesday.

India has been involved in deadly border skirmishes with China in recent months in the Himalayan Ladakh region. Meanwhile, the Trump administration has blamed China for the spread of the coronavirus pandemic and downgraded relations with Beijing over issues ranging from espionage accusations to China’s military moves in the South China Sea.

Anti-China protests broke out across India after Indian authorities said 20 of its soldiers died in a clash with Chinese troops in the Himalayan Mountains. It is the worst military confrontation between the nuclear-armed neighbors in decades. Photo: Narinder Nanu/AFP

“Ladakh certainly provided a big boost for the relationship” between the U.S. and India, said Michael Kugelman, senior South Asia expert at the Wilson Center, a Washington think tank.

Mr. Pompeo earlier this month met senior officials from Japan, Australia and India, and the four countries—known as the Quad—pledged to uphold territorial sovereignty and freedom of navigation amid rising tension between the countries and China.

After the India meetings, Mr. Pompeo will travel to Sri Lanka to “underscore the commitment of the United States to a partnership with a strong, sovereign Sri Lanka and to advance our common goals for a free and open Indo-Pacific region,” the State Department said.

In the Maldives, Mr. Pompeo will address “issues ranging from regional maritime security to the fight against terrorism,” the department said.

In Indonesia, Mr. Pompeo is expected to give a speech and work with his counterparts in Jakarta on regional issues. “I know the Indonesians share our desire to make sure there’s a free and open Indo-Pacific,” he said.

Write to William Mauldin at [email protected]

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