US Pacific Command is renamed US Indo-Pacific Command

Invoking the geographical expanse “from California to India” and the cultural spread “from Hollywood to Bollywood”, the Trump administration announced the renaming of the US Pacific Command as the US Indo-Pacific Command.

In a clear nod to India and a shot across China’s bow, US defence secretary Jim Mattis told journalists in Hawaii, where the command is headquartered, that he directed the name change to signal America’s commitment to ensure that every country “no matter its size… is not bound by any nation’s predatory economics or threat of coercion”.

It was a clear reference to China’s growing assertiveness in the region at the expense of smaller nations.

“If you notice, there’s only one country that seems to take active steps to rebuff them or state their resentment of them. But they’re international waters and a lot of nations want to see freedom of navigation,” Mattis said, calling out Beijing for breaking a 2015 promise to never militarise disputed islands in the region.

China has “done exactly that”, moving weaponry in that were never there before, and while the US is going out of its way to cooperate with the Pacific nations, “we’re also going to confront what we believe is out of step with international law and out of step with international tribunals that have spoken on the issue”, Mattis said.

The change in PACOM’s nomenclature and the tough remarks on China came just hours ahead of the Shangri-la defence dialogue in Singapore where eminence grises of the world’s strategic community, including several world leaders (PM Modi too) are attending. Mattis is expected to call on Modi later on Thursday.

It’s largely a symbolic move to underline India’s growing importance for the Pentagon at a time when Washington is also trying to pressure New Delhi to shun buying new weapon systems from Russia. The renaming recognises India’s increasing military relevance for the US as a counter to an aggressive and expansionist China in the region, but does not mean any additional military assets would be dispatched to the Indo-Pacific immediately. Mattis stopped in Hawaii on his way to Singapore to install Navy Adm. Phil Davidson as the leader of the powerful Pacific Command, succeeding Harry Harris, the admiral who’s slated to become the US ambassador to South Korea.

It was Harris who described the footprint of the renamed command as spanning “Hollywood to Bollywood, polar bears to penguins”. India has long come under the US Pacific Command, whereas Pakisan and other nations to its west come under the US Central Command. Most of the world’s trade and commerce, perhaps upwards of 80%, traverses the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean, illustrating the decline of Atlantic powers.

No comments: