The Trump administration is building new and stronger bonds with countries like India to advance its vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific, US Vice President Mike Pence has said, amidst China flexing its military muscles in the region.
The US recently renamed its oldest and largest military command - the Pacific Command - to Indo-Pacific Command, in a largely symbolic move to signal India's importance.
"To advance our vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific, we're building new and stronger bonds with nations that share our values, across the region - from India to Samoa. Our relationships will flow from a spirit of respect, built on partnership, not domination," Pence said Thursday in a major foreign policy speech at the Hudson Institute, a top American think-tank.
"We're forging new trade deals, on a bilateral basis, just as last week, President (Donald) Trump signed an improved trade deal with South Korea, and we will soon begin negotiating a historic bilateral free-trade deal with Japan," he said.
The US, he said, is streamlining international development and finance programs, giving foreign nations a just and transparent alternative to China's debt-trap diplomacy.
In July, the US had announced USD 113 million in new regional investments focused on digital connectivity, infrastructure and energy, amidst China flexing its military muscles in the Indo-Pacific region.
Pence said China was using its power like never before.
Chinese ships routinely patrol around the Senkaku Islands, which are administered by Japan, he said.
Despite China's "reckless harassment", the US Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows and "our national interests demand", he said.
"We will not be intimidated; we will not stand down," Pence said.
He said America had hoped that economic liberalisation would bring China into greater partnership with US and with the world, but China has chosen economic aggression, which has in turn emboldened its growing military.
Next month, Pence will represent the US in Singapore and Papua New Guinea, at ASEAN and APEC.
"There, we will unveil new measures and programs to support a free and open Indo-Pacific - and on behalf of the President, I will deliver the message that America's commitment to the Indo-Pacific has never been stronger," he said.
To protect US interests here at home, the administration has strengthened CFIUS - the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States - heightening our scrutiny of Chinese investment in America, to protect national security from Beijing's predatory actions.
China claims almost all of the South China Sea. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have counter claims over the area.
China has deployed anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-surface missile systems in the disputed South China Sea amid frequent forays by US naval and surveillance aircraft over the region to assert the freedom of navigation especially around the artificial islands built by China, where it has also established garrisons.
"When it comes to Beijing's malign influence and interference in American politics and policy, we will continue to expose it, no matter the form it takes. And we will work with leaders at every level of society to defend our national interests and most cherished ideals. The American people will play the decisive role - and in fact, they already are," Pence added.