Eye on China: US government seeks more funding from Congress to bolster Bay of Bengal military security

Washington, , ColombiaUpdated: Jun 13, 2019, 08:33 AM IST

Image for representation. Photograph:(Others)

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Seventy per cent of global commerce passes through the oceans of the Indo-Pacific, Alice G Wells informed the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee for Asia.

With an eye on countering increasing Chinese influence in key South Asian countries, the Trump administration has sought $30 million for what it has described as "Bay of Bengal" security initiative to provide foreign military financing to Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and the Maldives.

This is in addition to the $64 million already announced by the Trump administration for regional activities to support infrastructure growth and connectivity

"We request that Congress support the department's new security cooperation programme in South Asia, the Bay of Bengal Initiative, with $30 million in foreign military financing that will build maritime and border security capacity for Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Maldives," Alice G Wells senior State Department official for South and Central Asian Affairs told House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee for Asia, the Pacific and Non-proliferation in a prepared statement on Wednesday.

The sub-committee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on US Interests in South Asia and the FY 2020 Budget on Thursday. 

"We also request $64 million for regional activities to support raising infrastructure standards, supporting regional energy and digital connectivity, and bolstering cyber security," she said in her prepared remarks submitted to the Congressional sub-committee. 

The Department continues to explore options for providing additional resources to support the Indo-Pacific Strategy in line with this request, and if available it intends to return to Congress to discuss them, she said.

With the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act, she said, the Trump administration stands together with Congress by signalling to the region that America, itself an Indo-Pacific nation, is committed to promoting mutual prosperity. 

The Department requests $468 million for South Asia for the fiscal 2020 which increases regional economic and security assistance, as well as development funding for India and Maldives. This more than doubles US' fiscal 2019 request, she added.

In the Indo-Pacific, the Trump administration is committed to ensuring a rules-based order, with free and open commerce, freedom of navigation, democracy, and the peaceful resolution of disputes, Wells said.

These principles have helped to improve living standards for half of the world's population living in the Indo-Pacific region, and they remain critical for the region's long-term future, she said. 

Seventy per cent of global commerce passes through the oceans of the Indo-Pacific, and the US will protect its seas and skies through our diplomatic engagement, development efforts, and security cooperation, she noted. 

At the same time, the US, alongside India, Japan, Australia, and other trusted allies and partners, will support the political and economic autonomy of Indo-Pacific countries to ensure they can chart their own path to freedom and prosperity, as satellites to none, she told the lawmakers. 

"We cannot allow China, or any other country, to subvert our partners through unsustainable infrastructure projects that push economies into unsustainable debt, or by contributing to an erosion of transparency and democratic norms," Wells said in her prepared remarks.

She told lawmakers that the Maldives is testament to the power of a free, open and rules-based Indo-Pacific region.

"Maldives is testament to the power of a free, open and rules-based Indo Pacific region," Wells said. 

Commending the election of President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih on a platform of transparency and anti-corruption, she said the new Maldivian leader has taken aim at the preceding regime's secretive procurements of debt-laden, vanity infrastructure and has strengthened his outreach to the US and India. 

"Maldives is an exciting new Indo-Pacific partner, and an example of how engaged voters and civil society can push back against corruption and authoritarian tendencies in favour of transparency and human rights," Wells said.

The US she said, stands with Sri Lanka in investigating recent terrorist attacks and strengthening its counterterrorism capabilities. 

"The FBI quickly deployed at the request of the Sri Lankan government and helped dismantle the local terrorist organisations that carried out these attacks," she told the lawmakers in her prepared statement. 

"Now we are assessing ways in which we may support the Sri Lankan government while it re-orients its security apparatus toward addressing international terrorism, and we will continue to impress upon Sri Lanka the need to respect human rights, including for members of minority groups, refugees, and asylum seekers," Wells said. 

In her prepared remarks, Wells said Bhutan shares the US views on dynamics in the Indo-Pacific and is aligned with our objectives in the region. On Nepal, she said the US has encouraged it to take on a more proactive role in the Indo-Pacific region, and urge it to enforce UN Security Council Resolutions related to North Korea, among other priority global issues.

The fiscal 2020 request will enable the US to advance their mutual interest to help Nepal protect its sovereignty, enhance its security, and pursue prosperity, she said.