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India-China-Pak and Obama

It was speculated by various polemics in India that Barrack Obama who set his foot on Indian soil after a crushing defeat in the US mid term elections amidst plummeting popularity, will unlikely make any statement reflecting India’s aspirations for the United Nations Security Council’s permanent seat, as well as an endorsement of India’s position that Pakistan stop exporting terrorism before expecting a substantive dialogue on major outstanding issues. Obama not only silenced his critics in India and beyond by unequivocally supporting India’s position on both the issues but also took the work done by former US presidents to a higher stage of India-US cooperation by reaching out to Indian people and alleviating some of India’s major concerns pertaining to the outsourcing, dual-use technologies and clean energy. By his pronouncements in India, he underscored the fact that banning outsourcing may not be the answer to job creation at home, but in building a strong mutual strategic and economic partnership of win-win proposition may be the solution to the problem.

He allayed the suspicion about himself in this country that he was attaching more importance to China and derailing the strategic partnership between India and the US, for after assuming the office of President, Obama had straight flown to China and declared that the US and China should strengthen communication, dialogue and cooperation on issues related to South Asia, and work together to promote peace, stability and development in that region, even though China continues to consider the US as its enemy number one, which it says is hell bent to contain it with the support of countries in its vicinity.

It is for the first time in the history of India-US relations that the US president has de-hyphenated India from Pakistan. He is the first President who did not set a foot in Pakistan during his India visit, and categorically stated that it was ‘no coincidence.’ He endorsed the Indian stand that Pakistan remains the epicenter of terrorism by declaring it to the representatives of over one billion people that “we will continue to insist to Pakistan’s leaders that terrorist safe havens within their borders are unacceptable, and that the terrorists behind the Mumbai attacks must be brought to justice.” He also toed the Indian line when he declared that India and Pakistan should resolve their issues bilaterally, start with the less contentious issues and then the major issues. Nevertheless, assurances on even more contentious issue from Indian perspective such as the US military support and other largesse to Pakistan that have been often diverted by Pakistan to its anti-India assets, and so admitted by the leaders, would have been more substantive.

As far as China is concerned, it has been keeping a close watch on Obama’s India visit through dozen’s of its reporters in India and keeping the Chinese media abreast with every details of what he spoke. Though not many commentaries have appeared in the Chinese Press, however, the reports indicates that China is viewing India-US warmth as one targeted to ‘contain’ China. The Chinese edition of the Global News reported quoting The New York Times on 09 November, 2010 that the “warming” of the India-US relations not only marked the strengthening of cooperation with India, but also to ‘counter China’ in its deeper intent.  China Daily, the main English language mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China also stated that the U.S. leader sought “greater trade with India’s massive yet underdeveloped and restricted markets as well as to help counterbalance the rise of China.” It further wrote that “in his three-day trip, the longest stay in any foreign country by Obama, he announced $10 billion in business deals, aiming at reassuring voters at home that countries like India offer benefits for U.S. jobs rather than causing unemployment through outsourcing.”

As regards the endorsement of India’s ambitions to join the UNSC as a permanent member, China Daily reported that the “UN seat could be a pipe dream and face resistance from some of the U.N. Security Council’s five permanent members.” It may be reminded that now China is the only country that has not endorsed publicly India’s bid. We know that the endorsement is as much symbolic as substantive but the ultimate Chinese support to India’s UN seat I am afraid is likely to repeat the Nuclear Suppliers Group kind of support in 2009 in Geneva, whereby China not only did not earn goodwill in India but further pointed to fact that mistrust between India and China is too deep to alleviate. China would have earned huge goodwill in India had it taken the initiative and endorsed India’s position prior to Obama’s announcement even though we know that it would be difficult for China to support Japan’s entry to the UN, and without Japan on board, perhaps the US  would also not be so keen in initiating the UN reforms.

The Chinese media also reported that the US would relax restrictions on dual-use high-tech equipment, expand cooperation in space and defense technology, and continue civil nuclear cooperation. It also reported that the US has agreed to support India’s entry at the Nuclear Suppliers Group. China Daily reported that Obama’s trip with more than 200 business executives, and his U.N. announcement, underscored the growing importance of India, which by 2020 according to the paper is expected to be one of the five largest economies in the world. Amongst other issues, India and the US also discussed in details issues pertaining to East Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and West Asia, and the US also mustered support from India to exert pressure on China on its currency, reported the Daily.

China has been quick to pronounce its ‘its all weather friend’, Pakistan’s dissatisfaction and objection to the US support for India’s UN permanent seat; conversely it has been mum on the safe havens of terrorism in Pakistan. In Chinese blogs too, there are apprehensions that the US is using its neighboring countries to contain China, and some of these including India are willing to be used as the US tools.

It is ridiculous to believe that India has any intention to contain China. Apart from conducting a few military exercises in the region, India has no military alliances, and strategic assets including infrastructural support in these countries. Conversely China has invested in quasi military infrastructure in countries surrounding India, and has openly called for establishing military bases and alliances abroad recently. It has been admitted by the Chinese think tanks and academicians that the “mono-dimensional (danweixing) China-Pak relationship is focused at military security cooperation with not an endogenous (neishengxing) aim but around external security concern (waibu anquan guanqie) that is to counter India.” They further posit that “this kind of cooperation, to a greater extent is due to the long rivalry of both Pakistan and China with India, as India for a long time has been number one enemy of Pakistan, and also poses major threat to the security of western China. Therefore, to keep away the common enemy is a decisive factor in this relationship”. In the light of this, if the former US ambassador to New Delhi, Mr. Blackwill says that China is using Pakistan to contain India would not be an overstatement.  China must learn that India is not a banana republic, India will deal with the US as well as China on its own terms.

( The writer, Dr. B R Deepak, is Associate Professor in the Centre of Chinese and Southeast Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. The views expressed are his own.He could be reached at

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