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President Obama’s India Visit – China and Pakistan Watch With Care

US President Barack Obama’s three-day visit to India may not produce some earth-shaking bilateral agreements, but it is sending seismic waves around Asia, especially in China and Pakistan.

From India’s point of view the expectations start from bilateral interests. The “Next Step in Strategic Partnership (NSSP), and “Shared Values” between India and the United States were crafted to seek how the largest democracy in the world and the strongest democracy in world would build trust, and yet remain independent to agree to disagree on certain issues. It is a mature approach which no one can find fault with.

On a large scale the people of India are waiting to hear what President Obama has to say on restricting visas to Indian professionals, restricting outsourcing and placing penalty on American companies which outsource work to India. The USA cannot press for opening the Indian market further to their agricultural products, while hugely subsidizing their agricultural sector which works against India’s agricultural sector, imposing western policies on environment and climate change while declining to share technology and provide assistance to the developing countries, among other countries.

The differences on nuclear trade issues between India and the USA are getting narrowed down. The main obstruction from the US is to the nuclear accident liability law enacted recently by the Indian parliament. The US, hopefully, has been able to appreciate the Indian position, especially against the backdrop of the human disaster caused by the Union Carbide gas leak in Bhopal 26 years ago, in which the American company got away very lightly. A nuclear accident can cause much greater tragedy, and adequate compensation must be on hand immediately to address such a situation. But pressing for the extradition of former Union Carbide Chairman Mr. Anderson to face manslaughter charges would not be suitable during the Presidential visit.

American politicians and those in administration, as well as their advisors who are in and out of the government have various issues about media, some harbouring a hold back from the cold war era. This is because of myopic vision and lack of interest in looking at sub-regional, regional and global changes in the new perspective. India of the 21st century by no means is the India of the 1970s or 1980s or even the 1990s.

For example, some in and around USA’s nuclear policy-making establishment were dismayed with the India-US nuclear deal on the issue of proliferation, despite admission by the American government that India’s record is absolutely clear.

This mistrust lingers even today in the US Department of Commerce and defence. While pressing to sell military arms and equipment including advanced military aircraft to India, the reluctance to transfer high technology and dual use technology remains. In addition, sanctions on Indian entities like the DRDO, lSRO and others following India’s May 1998 nuclear tests still remain. All those do not spell either “strategic partnership” or “shared value”.

No true relationship can be built upon a foundation where mistrust still remains. The US expects a business of $10 billion from nuclear trade, and far more from defence sales. These will create new jobs in the US where the employment index is still to improve.

It would be simplistic for the US to expect such huge sales to India without full trust, and concrete assurance that spare parts and technology will follow. India cannot accept a situation where the tail of an aircraft is in India, and the Congress pass an amendment by which the rest of the aircraft is prohibited from export to India. It happened after the 1998 nuclear tests, leaving a bitter taste in India. Russia scores here over the US. They follow up with spare parts and technology.

The US may consider taking a page out of India-Russia Defence Co-operation. For example, the joint production of the Supersonic Brahmos Missile which has all the three versions of land, air and sea launched. There would be an India-US co-operation in a range of new generation arms and equipment. That would strength strategic partnership.

Another high priority on the Indian agenda is for its membership of an expanded US Security Council or the Perm-5. President Obama has gone only to the extent of supporting a major role for India in the expanded UN structure. To Indians, this is not enough. It would be a setback to bilateral relations if the US bows to China’s insistence and that of the “coffee club” to keep India out of the UNSC. This would be a signal test for the India-US strategic partnership on the “next step”.

India and the US are co-operating and sharing intelligence in the war against terrorism. But how much are Americans sharing intelligence where Pakistan is concerned. US officials claim that they had given all information on David Headly, the US-Pakistani, who recced Mumbai on behalf of Pakistan supported terrorist organization, the LET, and Pakistan’s intelligence agency the ISI.

According to the Indian government, no information on Headly was received from the US about the Mumbai terrorist attacks. Indian agencies faced a lot of stone-walling before they could get access to Headly in US custody earlier this year. The US agencies were aware of Headly’s activities long before, but did not apprehend him. This is a repeat of the Pakistani nuclear proliferation, Dr. A.Q.Khan. The CIA knew what he was doing, but did not take any action. This mind set of the US has to change.

It is no secret that Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the freedom of international shipping in the South China Sea will be discussed during President Obama’s visit. This is not surprising because they portend developments that could derail stability from one end of Asia to the other. It is not only India’s concern but that of many other countries who have a stake.

The recent US-Pakistan dialogue (Washington, Oct. 20-22) saw increased American financial support for Pakistan, especially for military assets to counter terrorism. The signals, however, suggested that US has a no option but to depend on the Pakistani Army to counter terrorism, and prepare for an exit from Afghanistan.

There are three questions for India. What can the US do to curb and eradicate Pakistan sponsored terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir? How does US see India’s role in Afghanistan after US withdrawal because, otherwise, India will have to find alternatives. What is the US position on the new Pak-China nuclear deal which threatens the very edifice of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to prevent nuclear proliferation?

Pakistan did not get much encouragement from the talks on the proposed Pak-China nuclear deal, an issue high on Pakistani foreign Minister Qureshi’s agenda. The issue is far more than China’s “Civilian” nuclear support to Pakistan for its energy requirements. Especially for China, if this deal goes through it will be the first step for Beijing to shape international relations as it deems fit. That is, in the 21st century China will replace, what they perceive, as global rules forced by the west. China, emphatically, is striving for a reversal of the established order.

China is looking at President Obama’s India visit as reenergizing Washington’s effort to encircle China, using India as a key factor in this strategy. India’s China experts, especially policy makers, are blissfully unaware that Chinese India experts, the armed force, and the foreign ministry, see India as a country which can match and outwit China in strategic actions and counter it. Many Indian experts have been swamped by Chinese propaganda or psychological warfare that Beijing does not even consider New Delhi as a serious competitor. A close study of Chinese strategic writings over the last twenty years at least, reveal that they view India as a difficult contender which stands against its domination of Asia.

The Chinese hold a lot by historical relations and connections. To the Chinese, Pakistan is a new born country which loathes India on issues of Pakistan and the independence of Bangladesh from Pakistan. Beyond this, however, is India’s historical and cultural relations with South East Asia and the Far East with relations conducted through religion and philosophy. It is unlike the Chinese army invading and marauding Indonesia, and China sponsoring people’s revolution in these countries between 1950s and 1970s. China’s relations with its eastern and South East Asian neighbours are based on compulsion. There is very little trust, even from Myanmar.

Nevertheless, China is in a hurry to establish its hegemony on these countries before the hollowness of its edifice comes to the fore. Nuclear power can threaten, and massive conventional military power can intimidate. But that is for a time only. More powerful stake holders are not going to stand by and watch.

Very recent writing in the Chinese official media, which is the only window to assess Chinese thinking, suggests how they are viewing President Obama’s visit to India. These writings are aimed at influencing views of both India and the US strategic partnership.

The following are some of the questions that China tried to inject in the Obama visit context (i) “Shared Values” in India-US relationship is aimed at China, with the US bringing together Japan, Australia, South Korea, Vietnam and other countries to encircle China (ii) China sees a virtual anti-China alliance in the making which could debilitate China unless it handles issues astutely (iii) in relation with China’s assertiveness, it sees an India-US strategic relation to influence the countries from Far East to South East Asia  (iv) advocates India-China co-operation to counter US and western strategy to benefit from this (v) advocates India-China co-operation to emerge as big powers and shape the “Asia Century” (vi) blames sections of the Indian media to rake up issues like Chinese intrusions along the borders, and issues of paper visas for Kashmir domiciled Indians, as small issues (vii) encourages India’s independent foreign policy towards China, and (viii) says India will only use USA but would not follow the US line. The Chinese media also reveals some apprehension on India-Russia relations.

It is clear that Beijing’s propaganda machinery is working overtime to divide India’s relations with USA and Russia and vice versa, and create some mistrust. The Chinese military, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has also been given the responsibility to engage in psychological warfare.

Briefly, India has to work through this maze in working with the USA and China. The only interest is self interest. China is looking at India to bail it from American pressure which ranges from currency manipulation charges, to human rights abuse, minority issues and development in Asia Pacific region. India has to engage with the US, but be vigilant about China’s double speak.

(The writer, Mr Bhaskar Roy, is an eminent China analyst based in New Delhi.Email:grouchohart@yahoo.com)

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