United States Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, while addressing reporters after arriving in Washington DC after completing his South Asia trip, said the US offer for India, Japan and Australia to be part of the four anchors of security and peace in the Indo-Pacific region was also an attempt to move relations with India to the "next level".
When asked about the sentiment in India about a speech he made in Washington DC last week, Tillerson said: "I would be the first to acknowledge it. This is a new approach as well and I think that we have had positive relations with India for 70 years but it's never quite moved to that next level. From time to time, the other side has taken a step back from the relationship for their own reasons."
Alyssa Ayres, a senior fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations, says Tillerson laid out a deepened partnership between India and the United States even before he started his five-nation, six-day whirlwind trip.
Ayres said, "Washington and New Delhi have been looking around and seeing the trade distortions that China uses of economic theft, to force certain outcomes particularly its 'One Belt, One Road project' and Tillerson passed a remark on India's stand on that openly. In his meeting with Minister Swaraj, he also talked about financing alternatives that would be transparent. I am intrigued to see Tillerson speak so publically about it."
Commenting on Tillerson's warm words for New Delhi, Jarret Blanc, a former State Department official and now a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said: "The rise of a more capable and assertive China remains the single most important driver of the growing partnership between Washington and Delhi. It's clear from the public statements made by secretary of state Rex Tillerson before his visit."
But Blanc also expresses concerns.
"At this point the United States is concerned about North Korea.. One day he could be talking to China on North Korea and the other day he could be aligning countries like India in the region against China," Blanc said.
The friendly tone toward New Delhi also preludes the Trump administration, as the US has always sought to cultivate India as a barricade against China.
"Tillerson was quite blunt when he singled out China and built up India. The subtext that we need to understand in this speech followed by the visit subtly highlights the disagreements between US and China. Things were packaged in a way that there is a clear message to China while pushing India. US wanted to a set a signal to India that we are taking an upfront stand on China," Blanc further said.
Meanwhile, most foreign policy mandarins in the American capital concurred that it was a growing concern that China does not regard India as an equal in the international arena, therefore, it is always very composed, balanced and somewhat indifferent in commenting about the growing Indo-US ties.
Cameron Munter, the former Ambassador to Pakistan and now an expert in the region ruled out any possible breakthrough in the Beijing-Washington-New Delhi triangle, such as a declaration of India's support for the US on the South China Sea and the East China Sea crises.
"I don't think the US has a simplistic strategy of "using" India as a counterweight to China. India is not a country that people "use" -- but the US and India do look for common interests. For example, both are interested in promoting maritime issues (freedom of navigation, security between the western Pacific and the Atlantic) and so doubtlessly there will be more naval cooperation. Is that by its nature "anti-China"? I would argue that China also has similar interests, even if specific problems like the South China Sea are marked by tension. That said, there are a couple of issues that need work. One is counter-terrorism, where the US has sought to work with Pakistan since 9/11 (with mixed success). US-Pakistani relations are tense, especially on counter-terrorism. And yet Pakistan's CPEC is a key part of China's Belt and Road Initiative, which in turn will have a big impact worldwide. Will the US turn its back on Pakistan and simply look to India on counter-terrorism? I don't believe that's possible without some Chinese participation as well," Munter said in an email response.
Some experts, however, stress that Chinese-Indian relations have their own logic, although there are certain disagreements and discrepancies between the two countries but India can never be used as a barricade against the United States.
"No nation, including the United States, can use India against any other country. India will do what is in its own interest. India was one country in the world that did not participate in the belt and road forum openly laying out the rationale of transparency and debt trap financing. It has in fact picked up United States attention by doing so," Ayresa said.
Another expert, however, opines that India wants a productive and peaceful relationship with China and the United States cannot get India to act in a certain way it desires.
"India wants to play a bigger role in the international stage. It wants to be involved in the most important peace and security decisions around the world. So it's clear to India that it needs to walk with Russia, China and United states," Anubhav Gupta said.
Gupta added, "People in India heard the Secretary Of State's speech and also welcomed the visit. India will watch and if the US puts its money where its mouth is, a concern that's also resonates in Japan and South Korea. The US must invest militarily, diplomatically and economically in the indo-pacific region only to get full and open support. Moreover, Trump is not going to be attending the Asia summit experts see that as a red flag that the US is not paying that much of an attention to the indo-pacific concerns, but India will wait and watch."