At the welcome ceremony for the first official state visit of his presidency, President Obama told Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that “it is fitting that you and India be so recognised”.
Obama hailed India as “indispensable” and said Indian prime minister’s visit reflects the “high esteem” in which he and the American people held Singh’s leadership. Tuesday’s reception at the White House was aimed at allaying Indian fears about America’s growing relation with China. Singh, who acknowledged Obama’s warm reception, said he is optimistic about the future of the US-Indian relationship and is looking for a “strategic partnership of global dimensions.”
But China is definitely on the prime minister’s mind. At a talk organised by the Council of Foreign relations, the Indian prime minister red-flagged the new troublesome neighbour’s growing assertiveness and creeping propensity to flex its muscle.
“We want the world to prepare for the peaceful rise of China as a major power. So, engagement is the right strategy for India as well as for the United States. We have tried hard to engage China in the last five years, and today China is one of our major trading partners,” Singh told the council.
“We recognise that we have a long-standing border problem with China. We are trying to resolve it through dialogue. Both our countries have agreed that pending the resolution of the border problem, peace should be maintained in the border line. I have received these assurances from the Chinese leadership at the highest level. (But) there is a certain amount of assertiveness on the Chinese part. I don’t fully understand the reasons for it,” Singh said.
Singh timed his remarks ahead of his meeting with Obama, where China is likely to be a key point of discussion. India is unhappy that the Obama administration has turned a blind eye to the rising border tension and visible differences between the Asian neighbours.
China has resurrected its claim to Arunachal Pradesh—almost three times as large as Taiwan—and stepped up military pressure along the 4,057-km northeastern frontier with India through frequent incursions. There has been a perceptible hardening of China’s stance towards India.
The Obama administration has been reluctant to take New Delhi’s side in its disputes with Beijing and shied away from cautioning it against attempts to change the territorial status quo forcibly. China’s “certain assertiveness” has forced India to redeploy defences in the vulnerable Siliguri corridor; it has stationed Sukhoi-30s in Assam’s Tezpur and initiated moves to reactivate 7 abandoned airstrips along its Himalayan border with China.
As Washington and Beijing negotiate what many expect to be the principle US-Asia relationship, India is anxious to ensure that its interests are not ignored. Singh is likely to take up issue with a paragraph in the Sino-US joint statement, drafted during Obama’s visit to Beijing last week, which gives China a role in bilateral issues relating to India and Pakistan.
Singh also talked about the different paths India and China had chosen to rise in economic terms. He invited US companies to be part of India’s growth story by touting 9% growth in two years. He said that progress can’t always be measured through a country’s GDP.
“No doubt Chinese growth performance is superior to India’s. But I always believe that there are other values which are more important than the growth of GDP—respect for fundamental human rights, respect for rule of law, respect for multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious rights,” Singh said.
“There are several dimensions to human freedom which are not always caught by the numbers with regard to the GDP. Even though Indian performance with regard to GDP may not be as good as the Chinese, certainly I would not like to choose the Chinese path. I would like to stick to the Indian path.”
He also said India’s reforms would stick. “Once democracy decides on the basis of wide-ranging consensus, any reforms that are undertaken will be far more durable, far more effective than the reforms introduced by the writ of a ruling group in a non-democratic set-up.”