Thursday, April 16, 2009

Randon Thoughts on China Factor in Indo-US Relations

State of US-China relations will affect Indo-US relations. Neither do we want to see very close relations between the two countries like during the Clinton administration, where they “want to jointly manage south Asia” just as they did post-1998 n-tests. On the other hand, we do not want to see them hostile to each other and get into conflict situations, where India being a neighbor, may be forced to take sides. That could prove dangerous for India. While the two extremes should be avoided, there are increasing concerns about China, its rise, particularly on the military side. The rising profile actually translates into hardline postures adopted by china in various decision-making foras and those decisions are more taking care of china’s national interests reasons than for regional and global issues. Every country will pursue its national interests, but if they are pursued in a short-sighted manner without any regard for other country could be harmful. Here, China’s repeated attempts at curtailing India’s rise could prove a limiting factor in improving the atmospherics of this important bilateral relationship.



China’s hardlining positions in the last few years, clearly a result of its increasing international profile, is creating difficulties for India and other regional players. It has toughened positions on the border issues, Arunachal Pradesh, Tibet issue. China adopted a less than constructive role in the last few years, evident at the September 2008 NSG meeting, post-Mumbai attacks at the UNSC, and most recently at the ADB where it vetoed and withheld its approval on a development loan for India’s northeast Arunachal Pradesh. Such behaviour on the part of china is going to create increasing frictions on the bilateral relations as well as on the emerging Asian strategic framework.

Such concerns on the part of US and India had become the basis for closer indo-US relations in the last few years. In fact, indo-US nuclear deal was the result of such a line of thinking. The more sec concerns with china, the more we will look at the US for closer relationship. How and whether the US reciprocates in another matter. So far it has. But how the Obama administration will look at the China and india is extremely important. Especially under the current circumstances where china and the US are caught in a symbiotic relationship. Their closer ties are bound to have effect on Indo-US relations. However, this is not to suggest that this is a zero sum game, that improvement in one relationship will necessarily lead to complete downturn in the other relationship. It might be correct to say that it will be a negative sum, where a strengthened US-China relationship could slowdown in certain aspects. An improved Indo-US relationship will have negative effect on Sino-India ties as well as a slowdown in US-China relations. Similarly, an improved US-China relations will raise the antenna in New Delhi and could affect both US-India as well as Sino-India relations.

US partnership with China on a range of issues on global governorship, is understandable, from North Korea to Afghanistan and Central Asia to the current economic crisis, but if this relationship is strengthened at the cost of India, it could lead to a slowdown of Indo-US relations. It will also have its ramifications on the emerging Asian security order.
This is not to say that the US does not have any concerns. At least until early this year, these concerns were pretty loud and clear.

At the same time, closer Indo-US partnership – concern for china. India’s rising profile of which Indo-US relations is one aspect, continues to worry China. Although India has never been formally listed as one of the challenges that China faces, it certainly irks them to see a more powerful India in its neighbourhood. As India continues to re-define and modify its foreign and security policies, given its increasing stature in the international arena, it calls for a dynamic debate on how Beijing views this emerging pole.

There have been several analyses pointing out to Chinese concern on a rising India –talking about India’s democratic and capitalist orientations, India’s territorial disputes with China, talking about India having a militaristic and religion-based strategic culture. Similarly, China views India as a “future strategic competitor” that would join any anti-China grouping in the future. In fact, one of the well-known scholars, Mohan Malik brings to the fore an internal study undertaken in 2005 that recommended China to undertake measures to keep the current strategic leverage in terms of territory, P-5 membership, and the Nuclear Club, hold on to diplomatic advantages through its special relationship particularly with India’s neighbouring countries and as also maintain the economic lead over India. This has become evident several times in the recent past, which all is an evidence that China does not willingly accept India's rise on the world stage, nor the prospect of closer US-India ties. However, India’s rising stature is a reality and China has to live with that reality.

Another issue. India’s role and stand on Tibet may be irksome to the Chinese leadership.
China has continued to reiterate its claims on Tibet and thereby Arunachal Pradesh through a series of statements as well as action on the ground by the PLA forces. Chinese leadership’s assertion to choose the next Dalai Lama is another way of pressuring India and Tibet on its claims, because such a step would essentially mean India conceding its access to the Tawang monastery. Article 2 of the Shimla Agreement was categorical to state that China recognizing the autonomous nature of Tibet shall “abstain from interference in the administration of Outer Tibet (including the selection and installation of the Dalai Lama),” which was totally left to the Tibetan government in Lhasa. The recent Chinese interest in the selection of Dalai Lama go against the principles of this treaty. However, China will continue to maintain the stand that it does not recognise this treaty as any valid instrument.
China has unleashed huge economic and infrastructural development programmes in Tibet as part of this larger politico-military objective of systematically killing the spirit of Tibetan nationalism. The new railway line – Qinghai-Tibet line – is being further extended, linking Lhasa with Shigatse and Yadong, near the Sikkim border. Hence, if China has some concerns of India’s strengthening relations with the US and other major powers, India too has concerns of a rising China whose ambitions are not very clear.

Arms control issues: FMCT, CTBT. These are issues that are going to be taken up by the Obama administration before too long. Obama’s renewed interest in getting the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) ratified by the US Senate and thereafter by other countries, including India and Pakistan could become a sore point in bilateral relations. India remains opposed to signing CTBT and this was clarified recently again by India’s envoy on nuclear issues, Ambassador Shyam Saran. He stated that India remained opposed to CTBT because it “was not explicitly linked to the goal of nuclear disarmament.” Additionally, he said, “this was crucial since it was not acceptable to legitimize, in any way, a permanent division between nuclear weapons states and non-nuclear weapons states.” Shyam Saran in fact suggested that if abolition of nuclear weapons was an agenda, then both India and the US should establish a working group at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva to chart a future direction, which could possibly be a positive and constructive link in the bilateral relations. If Obama administration is willing to look at strengthening Indo-US ties, this could be a positive agenda on the table. Otherwise, this is an area where the US and China will arrive at a common position and that could prove harmful for Indo-US relations. US and China already have similar positions on FMCT.

Terrorism: South Asia is the other area. In fact, the AfPak strategy that has come about, linking Kashmir to the security of Afghanistan, it is not a very palatable situation to India. This is exactly what Pakistan has always sought and it could possibly an area that China too agrees. There again, you have China, US and Pakistan on the same side and this could create setbacks in Indo-US relations.

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