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AFP
October 26, 2020

Pompeo campaigns against China

World

AFP
October 26, 2020

WASHINGTON: When the United States tried to seal a defence deal seven years ago with the Maldives, a sprawling and strategic archipelago, its plans were quietly torpedoed by a friend -- India, which considers the Indian Ocean its sphere of influence.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will visit the Maldives this week after top-level talks in India -- which offered open support when the Pentagon finally went ahead with a defense pact with the island nation in September.

What brought about the change, analysts say, is a deepening concern in New Delhi about China, which engaged in a deadly border clash with India this year and has been ramping up influence around South Asia, including in the Maldives.

Pompeo will also visit Sri Lanka -- where China has lent billions of dollars, leaving a mountain of debt -- as well as Indonesia, as President Donald Trump’s administration steps up its challenges to Beijing’s maritime claims in the dispute-rife South China Sea.

Pompeo, who has championed a hard line on Beijing, said his trip will "include discussions on how free nations can work together to thwart threats posed by the Chinese Communist Party."

Pompeo will be the first US secretary of state since 2004 to visit the Maldives, which under the defense accord agreed to strengthen cooperation with the United States and support a "free and open Indo-Pacific."

"At another time, India might have complained about the US presence in the Indian Ocean. Today, it doesn’t want the US to leave," said Tanvi Madan, director of The India Project at the Brookings Institution.