Pompeo, Esper drive US anti-China message in India visit

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Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, center, gestures towards U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, with Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, right, standing beside him, ahead of their meeting at Hyderabad House in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. In talks on Tuesday with their Indian counterparts, Pompeo and Esper are to sign an agreement expanding military satellite information sharing and highlight strategic cooperation between Washington and New Delhi with an eye toward countering China. (Adnan Abidi/Pool via AP)

NEW DELHI – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense chief Mark Esper stepped up the Trump administration’s anti-China message in India on Tuesday, exactly a week ahead of America’s presidential election.

With President Donald Trump in a tight race for a second term against former Vice President Joe Biden, Pompeo and Esper sought to play on Indian suspicions about China to shore up a regional front against increasing Chinese assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region. They also lauded joint cooperation in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

In talks with their Indian counterparts, Pompeo and Esper signed an agreement expanding military satellite information sharing and highlighted strategic cooperation between Washington and New Delhi with an eye toward countering China. The two men paid tribute to Indian troops killed in defense of their country, including 20 who died earlier this year in an incident with China.

“The United States will stand with the people of India as they confront threats to their freedom and sovereignty.” Pompeo said, referring pointedly to ones posed by the Chinese Communist Party,

”Our leaders and our citizens see with increasing clarity that the CCP is no friend to democracy, the rule of law, transparency, nor to freedom of navigation — the foundation of a free and open and prosperous Indo-Pacific," he said.

In a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Pompeo and Esper discussed the coronavirus pandemic, security and defense cooperation, and “shared interests in a free and open Indo-Pacific,” said U.S. principal deputy spokesperson Cale Brown.

Esper earlier said the two countries' focus must now “be on institutionalizing and regularizing our cooperation to meet the challenges of the day and uphold the principles of a free and open Indo-Pacific well into the future.” That, he said, is particularly important ”in light of increasing aggression and destabilizing actions by China."

Just hours before the meetings began, the Trump administration notified Congress of plans for a $2.37 billion sale of Harpoon missile systems to Taiwan — the second major arms sale in two weeks to the island that Beijing regards as a renegade province. China reacted to the first sale by announcing sanctions on U.S. defense contractors.