China looks on at the US-India lockstep
NEW DELHI - In strategic groupings, India and United States are seen as being partners to dilute the influence of China. Recent events only underline such assertions. Suspicions refuse to die as far as India and China are concerned.
Recently declassified Central Intelligence Agency documents detail what the US saw as Chinese deception and Indian naivety that led to the 1962 war between the two sides. This will only add to the mutual distrust over the border issues.
New Delhi and Washington, meanwhile, are breaking new ground, including in defense-related matters. This week China asked India, the US, Japan and Australia, which are looking to form a quadripartite arrangement with Tokyo taking a lead, to be "open and inclusive".
"China believes that to enhance mutual trust, expand cooperation for mutual benefit, it must be open and inclusive," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gan, reacting to the first meeting of officials of India, the US, Japan and Australia in Manila last month on the sidelines of a Southeast Asian summit.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has sought to allay such anxieties, saying, "I have told Chinese President Hu Jintao that there's no question of ganging up against China. This group isn't a military alliance." (The focus is on disaster management and energy.)
However, there are other issues as well. Recently, Taiwanese presidential candidate and opposition leader Ma Ying-jeou visited India in what was termed a private and unofficial visit. Officials say the visit was to foster closer economic relations irrespective of India's diplomatic ties with Beijing. Ma met Congress party president Sonia Gandhi, top opposition leaders and business executives.
Some suggest that the Taiwanese politician's visit was planned as a reaction to the recent issue over the northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh (AP), where armies clashed 40 years ago. China claimed that a senior Indian official from AP did not require a visa as AP was a part of China. In the past, too, Beijing's leaders have raised the "AP is part of China" issue whenever it has suited them.
Indian diplomats say the Ma visit was arranged in a manner meant not to offend Beijing, while at the same time sending a message that India too can up the ante and create irritants. Beijing let its discomfort become apparent, with the Chinese Foreign Ministry saying that the "relevant country should adhere to the 'one China' policy".
India has already been seeking out Japan as a partner in the region. The two countries find common cause in their bid to be permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. The first joint naval exercises of India, the US and Japan were held in April last year, much to the chagrin of Beijing.
Last week, the estimate for the cost of India's biggest infrastructure project, the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, with Japan as the official partner, was doubled to US$100 billion. The DMIC revision is ahead of discussions with a team from the Japanese government that is scheduled to visit early next month. The Japanese government and its corporate sector are estimated to be providing up to $30 billion in loans and investments in what would be one of Japan's biggest financial contributions to a single foreign project of this nature.
Though the Indo-US nuclear deal is still unconsummated, the two countries have made advances in other defense arrangements. The two signed a historic defense framework agreement in June 2005. The US has been keen to push the nuclear deal to leverage possible defense contracts with India. However, the country has been winning Indian purchases without the pact being finalized.
This month, the Indian Navy acquired its first US warship, the Trenton, rechristened INS Jalashwa, meaning "River Horse". INS Jalashwa is now the Indian Navy’s second-largest combat platform. India's cabinet committee on security approved the acquisition last July, for $400 million.
Last month, India and the US finalized a deal worth $1 billion involving the sale of C-130J Hercules transport planes. This is the single largest Indian military purchase to date from the United States.
This week, New Delhi granted permission for the US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz to dock at Chennai in early July. This is not the first US Navy visit to an Indian port, but New Delhi chose not to consult or inform the left-wing parties. The Nimitz will be the largest vessel of its kind to dock at an Indian port. Defense Minister A K Antony has said this is part of the ongoing Indo-US defense cooperation.
Leftist leader Sitaram Yechury has, however, severely castigated the government as a stooge in Washington's strategy to take on China and Iran. The Nimitz has been active in the Persian Gulf.
Meanwhile, the Indian and US navies have been conducting regular exercises. The Malabar series of India-US exercises have also broadened in scope over the years.
US companies will now be eyeing the 126 multi-role combat jets that India plans to purchase in the near future, in a deal that could be worth $10 billion. The makers of the F-16 and F/A-18 Super Hornet are already being seen as favorites to win the contract.
This week, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stressed the need to push the nuclear deal through. "I cannot tell you how much the world is watching to see if we can complete this. We need to get it done by the end of the year," she said.
In New Delhi, Manmohan said that "one or two issues" needed to be resolved in the nuclear deal and that he hopes it will be done soon. The deal is in a limbo as New Delhi has refused to accept any embargo on nuclear testing and fuel-reprocessing rights, as impinging on sovereignty.
There may be differences over opening of agriculture in multilateral world trade talks. But it is apparent that the US and India now stand together on strategic matters.
Siddharth Srivastava is a New Delhi-based journalist.