Explained: Trump signs law to counter China by stepping up defence ties with India

In a move to enhance leadership in the Indo-Pacific region, US president Donald Trump on Monday signed a law that aims to counter China’s rising military and strategic influence in the region. The Asia Reassurance Initiative Act (ARIA) is expected to play a vital role in promoting a rules-based order in a free and open Indo-Pacific, and bringing disruptive elements in line to respect the international law.

With an allocated budget of $1.5 billion over a five-year period, the Act aims to enhance cooperation with America’s strategic regional allies in the region.

A segue to Quad dialogue

Introduced in April 2018, passed by the US Senate on December 4, and approved by the US Congress on December 12, ARIA is among the 13 bills signed into law by Trump on the last day of the year. It comes just two months after the informal consultative mechanism, Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, was revived among India, Japan, Australia and the US, on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit (EAS) in Singapore.

Also read: The geographic problem of USA’s Indo-Pacific strategy

In fact, the Act, introduced by Senators Cory Gardner, Ed Markey, and co-sponsored by Marco Rubio Ben Cardin, endorses the Quad as crucial to addressing certain pressing security concerns in the region. Gardner and Markey are members of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy.

The primary aim of the QSD is to thwart China’s growing ambitions and advances in security and discuss measures to balance the power dynamics across the Indo-Pacific region. The members of the Quad had agreed in November to forge a coalition to contain Chinese maritime expansionism, by patrolling and controlling waterways along the Indian and the Pacific Ocean up to the disputed waters of East and South China Seas.

What does the new law entail?

The latest legislation states that the core tenets of the US-backed international system are being challenged by “China’s illegal construction and militarization of artificial features in the South China Sea and coercive economic practices; North Korea’s acceleration of its nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities; and the increased presence throughout Southeast Asia of the Islamic State and other international terrorist organisations that threaten the United States.” 

Describing India as a major partner, the ARIA Act reiterates US commitment to all “bilateral and security agreements and arrangements” between the two countries. It the progress made in elevating  trade and technology cooperation with India thus far, so that it becomes at par with some of US’ closest allies and partners.

The law also lays down provisions to facilitate technology sharing including licence-free access to a wide range of dual-use technologies, while making note of national security concerns. Topics governing joint exercises, coordination on strategy and policy, military exchanges, and port calls to cooperation were also covered in the document that was tabled before the Congress on Monday.

Why it matters

By stepping up multifaceted ties with India, the US hopes to garner more support for its rules-based international system, which some of China’s actions deliberately undermine. The Act further reaffirms the US’s commitment to the New Framework for the 2005 US-India Defence Relationship, Defence Technology and Trade Initiative launched in 2012, the 2015 Joint Strategic Vision for the Indo-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region, and the 2017 Joint Statement on Prosperity Through Partnership.

ARIA further calls for the strengthening, broadening and structuring of strategic ties between the nations, that will also extend to a diplomatic and economic alliance according to Section 204 of the Act. Above all, the law the significant role the US and India can potentially play in the Indo-Pacific region, in terms of promoting peace and preserving security.

This is in keeping with the US’s aggressive campaign against China on all quarters — from economic sanctions on Chinese imports at the cost of a trade war to  the support of two powerful and emerging Asian nations to carve cross-border security arrangements against Beijing. In keeping with the US policy of developing and committing to a long-term strategic vision for the Indo-Pacific region, the Act not only aims to secure US’s national security interests but also promote American prosperity and economic interests by advancing economic growth and development of a rules-based Indo-Pacific economic community.

The legislation arriving on the heels of Quad’s rebirth further underscores the brewing suspicion and growing unease in the global political landscape when it comes to China’s meteoric military and economic advancements and growing assertiveness on the world stage.

Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius

ARIAAsia Reassurance Initiative ActIndo-PacificIndo-USQuadrilateral Security Dialogue