Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
Obama in India next month; ripples in the region
U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to India is still a couple of weeks away and there is the huge U.S. election before then, but it has already set off ripples in the region. The Chinese have especially cottoned onto Obama’s Indian journey, fretting over what they see as a U.S. attempt to ring fence China by deepening ties with countries around it. And continent-size India with a population of over a billion and an economy growing at a clip just behind China’s is seen as a key element of that strategy of containment.
Qui Hao of the National Defense University, writes in the Global Times that while U.S. military alliances with Japan and South Korea form the backbone of the “strategic fence” around China, the “shell” is the partnership that Washington is building with India, Vietnam and other nations that have territorial disputes with China.
India, Qui cautions, would do well not to blindly follow America’s policies in the region, especially if it really wanted to be a global player. India, China and the United States were bound up in a triangular relationship, and as the two weaker parts of that relationship, it was important that they maintained stable ties so that Washington didn’t exploit their differences, Qui wrote.
Quite remarkable, since for decades and especially so in recent years, the Chinese have hardly seen India as little more than a regional player locked in disputes with its neighbours, much less an equal in a three-way relationship involving the United States.
Qui is not alone. Du Youkang who heads the center for South Asian studies at Fudan University said the rise of India and China was the 21st century’s biggest development, and both countries must work to deepen ties. Some Western countries and the media were trying to drive a wedge between the two neighbours , Du said in the China Daily, urging both to be vigilant against elements inside their countries and outside trying to stir trouble and derail a growing relationship. There was much that was common between the two countries, not least their desire to meet the challenges globalisation in a Western-dominated international economic system.
China and India share a lot of common views on many major international issues such as a multi-polar world, reform of the international economic and financial system, South-North relations, democratization of international relations, climate change and World Trade Organization talks. In recent years, the two sides have enhanced coordination and cooperation over these issues to protect their as well as the entire developing world’s interests.
China is not the only one watching Obama’s passage to India. Arch rival Pakistan will be closely following the trip, beginning from Mumbai and indeed the very hotel which was one of the centres targeted by Pakistan-based militants in deadly attacks in 2008. Pakistan, and by extension Afghanistan, will by themselves be the elephants in the room when Obama sits down for talks with his Indian hosts. Any tilt, or a perceived slight or remarks such as the one made by British Prime Minister David Cameron when he was visiting India, saying Pakistan couldn’t look both ways in the fight against terrorism, run the risk of further souring U.S.-Pakistan ties.
Already the very idea of Obama visiting India while ignoring Pakistan, which is supposed to be a frontline ally in the war against terrorism and has paid a heavy price in terms of human lives in that fight, rankles with many in Pakistan. Imtiaz Gul, who runs the Centre for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad, says Pakistan may have conveyed its displeasure during high level talks with U.S. leaders this week. Washington has promised a presidential trip next year.
Skipping Pakistan will only inflame a Pakistani public already seething over the U.S. invasion of Iraq, America’s military involvement in Afghanistan, and of course what is perceived as unquestioning U.S. support for Israel to the detriment of Palestinians. Such slights always feed into the narrative that al Qaeda and its Pakistani auxiliaries love to promote: American disdain for and discrimination against Muslims.
But the process of dehyphenating U.S. ties with India and Pakistan is now a decade-old. It began in 2000 when U.S. President Bill Clinton spent five days in India followed by a five-hour finger-wagging trip to Pakistan . That was before the September 11 attacks, which set U.S.-Pakistan ties on an even more different course than the one it has pursued with India.