India and Vietnam will define the future of Asia: Kurt Campbell

Japan to host next Quad summit in 2022, U.S. Indo-Pacific coordinator says

Kurt Campbell, the U.S. National Security Council Indo-Pacific coordinator speaks at the United States Institute of Peace on Nov. 19. (Screenshot)KEN MORIYASU, Nikkei Asia chief desk editorNovember 20, 2021 03:20 JST

NEW YORK — U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration views India and Vietnam as key countries to strengthen relations with, his Indo-Pacific point man said Friday.

India will be a key fulcrum player on the global stage in the 21st century, and successive American administrations have been united in that assessment, said Kurt Campbell, the National Security Council’s coordinator for the Indo-Pacific, at an event hosted by the Washington-based United States Institute of Peace.

“I’m very bullish about the future with India. I think we all recognize that the critical, crucial member in the Quad is India,” Campbell said, referring to the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue among the U.S., Japan, India and Australia.

Japan has agreed to host the next Quad summit in 2022, he said, There, the four countries will discuss ways to further deepen cooperation.

India’s traditional position of nonalignment, or strategic autonomy, has kept the Quad from shifting to something like an Asian NATO or the recently launched AUKUS partnership of Australia, the U.K. and the U.S. But Campbell said: “This is a moment for thinking creatively and strategically about what’s possible between the United States and India.”

He said India, along with Vietnam and a few others, tops the list of critical countries that will define the future of Asia. “I believe that whoever is in office in Washington, Democrat or Republican, will do what’s necessary to help build that relationship,” Campbell said.

The veteran Asia hand said the 2020 border clashes with China in the Himalayas have had a profound impact on Indian strategic thinking. “The border disputes in the disputed territories in the Himalayas, in these ungodly conditions, in which a number of Indian troops were killed last year, and a real sense of heightened tensions between China and India, it would be difficult to exaggerate the strategic significance that has had in Delhi,” he said.

The resulting “new strategic paradigm” has encouraged India to “reach out and to build, not just with the United States, but other countries, stronger bonds to signal that India is not alone and is working with other countries,” Campbell said.U.S. President Joe Biden meets with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Oval Office at the White House on Sept. 24.    © Reuters

Meanwhile, he described Vietnam as a “swing state” in the Indo-Pacific. Pointing to the many high-tech and manufacturing companies increasingly looking in that country “to diversify their holdings, investment, patterns of trade in Asia,” Campbell noted Vietnam’s “remarkable growth in its technology sectors and the like.”

“They are raising their diplomatic game,” he said, soon after noting Vietnam’s more active role in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Campbell said American and Vietnamese leaders need to become more familiar with one another, with their meetings less scripted and more about “sharing true strategic purpose.”

“This is going to be a critical swing state, not just strategically but commercially and technologically,” he said. “Even though we have different kinds of government, different overall values, I believe, fundamentally, the ability to work closely with Vietnam will be decisive for us going forward.”

On AUKUS, Campbell said there will be more British and Australian sailors serving on U.S. naval vessels, as well as more forward-deployed U.S. assets in Australia. He called the near “melding” of the services as something “we couldn’t have dreamed about five or 10 years ago.”

Such cooperation with allies and partners “is going to be the most essential feature of an effective strategy in the Indo-Pacific,” Campbell said.

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