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.
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Since then, US and Indian views on China have converged. That’s because Obama got little in return from his visit to Beijing, and the Chinese have grown more assertive over territorial disputes in recent months – alarming both the Indians and the Americans.Skip to next paragraph
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“There is a congruence of interests and this happened after Obama got mugged in Beijing,” says Sumit Ganguly, an American scholar of South Asia on sabbatical in Delhi. And “growing Chinese misbehavior … had the effect of concentrating the minds of the Indians.”
For some in Delhi, the Obama administration’s walk back toward India is welcome but still not close enough.
“They are still in the hedging mode,” says Brahma Chellaney, a security expert at the Center for Policy Research in Delhi. “There is an attempt to do what Bush was doing, which is to line up partners.… [But Bush policy] was driven by a larger geo-strategic blueprint that the Obama administration lacks.”
The US “hedge” tactic is straightforward: Expand involvement in East Asia regional forums, military exercises, and agreements to include the US and India, thereby diluting Chinese opportunities for domination.
Hillary Clinton will be the first US secretary of state to attend an East Asia summit, which begins Saturday in Hanoi. India fought for US involvement in the forum’s first meeting in 2005, and helped fight – along with smaller nations – to get US access this year.
The US has deepened military cooperation with India. US officials point out that the US has held more than 50 joint-military exercises with India over the past eight years – more than with any other country.
The Obama visit will coincide with major sales of military equipment to India, including C130J transport aircraft, improved missiles, and maritime surveillance aircraft.
Obama will be visiting India, Indonesia, Japan, and South Korea, in an effort to bring these countries together regionally. Or, as Dr. Chellaney puts it, “they are the four key democracies that you need to contain China.”
India has already reached out to these countries, recently signing free trade deals with Japan and South Korea.
“In many ways, this is happening without any kind of push or direction being given by anyone else, because India’s interests are driving it in that direction…. India’s trade with Southeast and East Asia has deepened,” says Salman Haider, a former foreign minister of India. “I think that the challenge now for India is not to confront China but to see how far there can be some kind of convergence [with Beijing].”