Ahead of President Donald Trump’s maiden Asia trip, the White House on Wednesday said India plays a “big role” in the Indo-Pacific region.
Trump embarks on a 12-day trip later this week to visit Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and Philippines. He will not be paying a visit to India this time.
“It certainly plays a big role,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters at her daily news conference when asked about India’s role in the Indo-Pacific region.
“Does this administration see India as a pivotal part of your strategy when it comes to the Asia-Pacific more broadly?” she was asked.
“I can tell you that we have a close relationship with India, that we have a lot of areas of common interest, including—we’re both democracies; we’re both large countries. They’re an enormous country,” State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert told reporters at a separate news conference.
“India can bring so much, not only to the region, but to the world. In addition, many American jobs, through greater trade and cooperation with that country,” she said, referring to the major India policy speech given by the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last month, soon after which he travelled to India.
Nauert was asked why Trump is not going on this trip to India, if the country is so important.
“I think that would be a different kind of trip for the President, tagging India -- along to that trip. I think he’s got a pretty hefty schedule, but I don’t want to speak on behalf of the White House,” she said.
Asked if Tillerson’s India policy was a China containment policy, the State Department spokesperson said the top American diplomat had said this before with China “privately”.
“I think the Secretary—what he said in his speech— about China, in his speech about India, was something that the Secretary has said with China privately before. So some of those in the past have been private conversations, and now, they’re just becoming more public conversations,” she said.
The spokersperson said that North Korea is a top issue and Trump will discuss it with China.
“But let me just say, I know that the president is very much looking forward to his trip to China. It is going to be a lengthy trip, a robust trip. And one of the top issues that will be discussed with China is certainly the DPRK,” the spokesperson said.