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Obama, Clinton visit India with wary eye on rising China

President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton are making trips to India and the region in the coming weeks, with an eye toward strengthening alliances to counterbalance China.

By Staff writer / October 29, 2010

A book seller displays a copy of US President Obama's book ahead of his visit to the city early next month in Mumbai, India, on Oct. 29.

Rajanish Kakade/AP

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New Delhi

President Obama and his secretary of state are embarking on Asian trips to build up an insurance policy in case the rising power China ever turns aggressive.

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Mr. Obama’s first and longest stopover next month will be India, a country that his predecessor touted as a counterbalance to China. The Obama administration initially reversed that talk, but has lately come around to seeing India as a key link in a regional safety net.

Senior US government officials say India has a role to play in East Asia, with one calling India an “East Asian power.” They are quick to say they prefer close ties between China and India, and between China and the United States. But as China grows more assertive in its neighborhood, the US is looking to deepen cooperation with and among China’s neighbors.

“I think the Americans, probably, and the Indian government sees China as a not-necessarily-hostile state, but a state which could be hostile, whose rise could be threatening. So therefore a policy of reinsurance – diplomatic consultations, military-to-military cooperation – without provoking China is probably the correct policy,” Stephen Cohen, a South Asia expert with the Brookings Institute, said at a talk in New Delhi.

The previous US administration was more convinced that in the long-term China’s rise would be hostile to American interests. The Bush administration entered into a landmark “strategic partnership” with India in an effort to raise a competitor to China in Asia.

Indian caution

India has been extremely cautious publicly toward China, so there’s some disagreement among analysts and former officials over how much Delhi wants to play a counterweight role.

But Indian officials were clearly upset when Obama visited Beijing last year and seemingly turned the tables on Delhi by saying that China and the US would “work together to promote peace, stability, and development” in South Asia.

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