WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said before a visit to India next week that the Trump administration wanted to “dramatically deepen” cooperation with New Delhi, seeing it as a key partner in the face of China’s negative influence in Asia.
Speaking on Wednesday, less than a month before President Donald Trump is due to make his first visit to China, Tillerson said the United States had begun discussions on creating alternatives to Chinese infrastructure financing in Asia.
In another comment likely to upset Beijing, he said Washington saw room to invite others, including Australia, to join U.S.-India-Japan security cooperation, something Beijing has opposed as an attempt by democracies to gang up on it.
The remarks coincide with the start of a week-long Chinese Communist Party congress at which President Xi Jinping is seeking to further consolidate his power.
“The United States seeks constructive relations with China, but we will not shrink from China’s challenges to the rules-based order and where China subverts the sovereignty of neighboring countries and disadvantages the U.S. and our friends,” Tillerson told the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank.
He urged India to embrace its potential as a leader in international security and said Washington was prepared to help strengthen its defense capabilities.
China, a strategic rival to both the United States and India, is also vital to Trump’s efforts to roll back North Korea’s efforts to create nuclear-tipped missiles capable of reaching the United States, an issue expected to top the agenda in Trump’s Nov. 8-10 Beijing visit.
A senior State Department official defended the timing of the speech, noting Tillerson also said he wanted a constructive relationship with China.
“We have an international order that is under various stresses,” said the official. “For many decades the United States has supported China’s rise,” he said. “We’ve also supported India’s rise. But those two countries have risen very differently.”
Tillerson did not say what he meant by creating an alternative to Chinese infrastructure financing, but said the Trump administration had begun a “quiet conversation” with some emerging East Asian democracies at a summit in August.
He said Chinese financing was saddling countries with “enormous” debts and failing to create jobs.
“We think it’s important that we begin to develop some means of countering that with alternative financing measures.”
”We will not be able to compete with the kind of terms that China offers, but countries have to decide what are they willing to pay to secure their sovereignty and their future control of their economies and we’ve had those discussions with them as well,” he said.
Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Jonathan Landay; Editing by James Dalgleish