Long shadow of Hu’s visit reaches Delhi

Chinese President Hu Jintao’s carefully scripted state visit to the United States has come to a close. Despite careful preparation on the part of the Obama administration little tangible progress has been made on the issues of greatest concern to itself. For example, Mr Hu made no commitment to change the value of China’s currency, to ensure greater access to his country’s burgeoning market, to address serious international and American concerns about the state of human rights and about tightening international sanctions on Iran. He did, however, without specifying a timeframe, claim that China had helped create as many as 14 million jobs across Asia thanks to its rapid economic growth. Simultaneously, he committed himself to buying as many as 200 Boeing aircraft for $19 billion as part of a larger $45 billion export deal with the US. Also, in the security realm, the joint communiqué did emphasise a shared concern about North Korea’s uranium enrichment.
It may be of more than passing interest in New Delhi that the Indo-US relationship was not the subject of any remarks on the part of US policymakers or even political commentators. Instead the entire focus of the visit was on how the United States and the People’s Republic of China would tackle a host of bilateral and global issues from America’s yawning trade gap to climate change. Bluntly put, despite that fact that US President Barack Obama referred to Indo-US relationship as one of the “defining partnerships of the 21st century” for the foreseeable future, it is the Sino-American relationship that will occupy centrestage in global affairs. Indeed such an argument can be made without necessarily buying into what the former US national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, referred to as G2, a Sino-American condominium to help manage key global issues.
That said, there is no question that thanks to the costs of the financial crisis within the US, the continuing trade gap and the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the US must necessarily tread with care when dealing with an economically robust and increasingly militarily-able China. On the other hand, it is equally important to underscore that China has a vital interest in access to the American market, to address growing American concerns about intellectual property rights in China and to avoid military behaviour that could seriously endanger the security of American allies in East Asia.
What does this new, emergent Sino-American relationship mean for the traditional allies of the United States such as the states of western Europe, Japan and Australia? Also, what are the implications for its new friends, such as India? This attempt at some form of rapprochement in Sino-American relations does not necessarily signify that the US is about to abandon its traditional partnerships with western Europe, Japan and Australia. Nor, for that matter, is it likely to dispense with the hard-won gains that have taken place in Indo-US relations over the past decade or so. These relationships, though not as momentous as the emerging US-China nexus, will remain significant.
Nevertheless, it is possible to argue that a tectonic shift is underway in global politics and the implications for India are significant. Though China is a very long way from becoming an equal of the United States, the first Sino-US summit in 13 years has made clear that it has emerged as the single most important player in global politics after the US. In this environment, India’s policymakers, who remain fixated on the dream of ensuring that India achieves its rightful place in global affairs, face a demanding set of tasks. Categorically stated, unless India wishes to see itself consigned to playing the role of a regional power with only limited reach beyond the confines of South Asia it will have to move with both vigour and dispatch.
To that end it will need to set aside internal policy bickering and focus single-mindedly on sustaining economic growth while reducing poverty. It will also need to devote much energy to dampening a range of domestic fires from Kashmir to its “red belt”. Finally, it will have to embark seriously on a long-term strategy of military modernisation to ensure a robust military capability to meet a range of contingencies. Most of these goals are entirely within its ken.
However, addressing these issues alone, without carefully thinking through, and working toward what role it aspires to play in the emergent global order, will not guarantee it success. To that end it needs to go beyond the rhetoric of national autonomy and enlightened self-interest. These principles, though sound, do not constitute an adequate guide to the conduct of the foreign policy of an emergent power. Instead policymakers will need to give careful thought of how India might find a way to manoeuvre in a global arena where the co-dependence of two dominant states will cast a long shadow on a host of global issues — from international trade to global climate change. As India’s leadership celebrates its 62nd year as an independent republic it may well be critical to think of where it hopes to find itself in the global order in the decade ahead.

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