In trip to India, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao takes cues from Obama

Like Obama on his November trip to India, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is traveling with hundreds of executives and has business deals at the top of his agenda.

Gurinder Osan/AP
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao waves upon arrival in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Dec. 15. Wen is on a three-day visit to India as part of efforts to build trust between the rival neighbors amid lingering disputes over territory, trade and telecoms.

President Obama has serious influence as a globetrotter: Since his trip to India, he’s been followed to New Delhi by France’s Nicolas Sarkozy and now Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.

Mr. Wen, who arrived in India Wednesday afternoon, is even mimicking Mr. Obama’s entourage by bringing with him hundreds of business executives. It remains to be seen if he can best Obama’s souvenirs of business deals worth $10 billion and 50,000 jobs. But Wen will certainly go home with more than a T-shirt.

While China is putting business deals front and center with India, the two largest countries on earth have major strains to hash out behind closed doors. Obama’s earlier visit put China on notice that its recent assertiveness over disputed territory has galvanized neighbors like India to deepen ties with the United States as geopolitical insurance.

China has long been nettled by New Delhi’s sheltering of the Dalai Lama. Meanwhile, India has been particularly unnerved over the past couple of years by:

  • The refusal of China to stamp visas inside the passports of Indian residents – and even an Indian military general – from the disputed Kashmir region; Chinese officials have stamped separate, stapled papers instead.
  • Chinese border incursions along the Himalayan border that remains disputed since a 1962 border war; India has quietly begun large infrastructure buildups in response.
  • The Chinese buildup of naval port facilities in the Indian Ocean, a strategy dubbed the “string of pearls” that’s designed to choke off Indian naval emergence.

Obama’s November trip tapped into growing trepidation in Asia over Chinese assertiveness and drew together a similar “string of pearls” of major democracies with navies that surround China – India, Indonesia, Japan, and South Korea. Strategist Robert Kaplan has called attention to the semicircle that those nations form around China.

“It's not a war I'm predicting, but what I am alluding toward is a very complex, Metternichian arrangement of power from the Horn of Africa all the way up through the Sea of Japan,” the Monitor quoted Mr. Kaplan as saying at a book event in Cambridge, Mass. "We don't have to interfere everywhere, we just have to move closer to our democratic allies in the region so they can do more of the heavy lifting."

China has clearly noticed the mounting backlash in its neighborhood.

“The notion that China will overtake the US and dominate the world is a myth,” State Councilor Dai Bingguo wrote in a Dec. 6 essay posted on the Chinese government’s website. “Our fundamental policy and strategy is to not take the lead and not seek hegemony.”

Mr. Dai added: “The international community should welcome and not be afraid of China’s peaceful development, should help it rather than hinder it, and should support it and not to contain it.”

Already, Wen has used the visit as an opportunity to sound similar reassurances.

"China and India are partners for cooperation, not rivals in competition. There is enough space in the world for the development of both China and India," he told business leaders in New Delhi Wednesday.

The Indian government, which is hoping that Wen will renounce the policy of stapling visas, will also be sounding out Wen on whether China’s position has changed on opposing a permanent seat for India on the United Nations Security Council.

Wen’s visit to New Delhi will last two days. On Friday he travels to Islamabad for meetings with China’s close ally, Pakistan.

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