A week may be long in politics but when it comes to geopolitical equations involving India, China and the United States, it comes close to eternity.
Last week, Indian strategic thinkers were frothing at the mouth over a perception that China and the US were “ganging up” against India, following the insertion of a paragraph on South Asia in the joint statement issued during president Barack Obama’s maiden visit to China. But following Indo-US articulations of a “strategic partnership” during prime minister Manmohan Singh’s visit, and Obama’s commitment to “finalise” the civilian nuclear agreement with India, Chinese commentators are cautioning India and the US against “ganging up” against China.
The official news agency Xinhua reported from Washington that India and the US are “embracing politically an unprecedented strategic partnership” following talks between Obama and Singh. It also noted that Obama had “reaffirmed” US commitment to fully implement the nuclear agreement, but cited opposition to the deal from some US lawmakers as it “sent a bad message to nations such as Iran”.
News of the resurgence in Indo-US goodwill and the glitzy White House state dinner came on the day the US government set anti-dumping duties on tubular goods imports from China, accentuating trade friction between China and the US — which Obama and Hu had pledged to avoid last week. China’s commerce ministry expressed “strong opposition” to the US decision, saying it was protectionist and hurt Chinese companies' interests.
A commentary in the nationalist daily Global Times, ‘In diplomacy, ganging up is a risky move’, gave voice to Chinese apprehensions that the US and India were “attempting to ally against China”.
In it, Fudan University scholar Shen Dingli noted that China had made significant progress after 30 years of efforts. “Yet the US felt threatened by this”, and under the Bush administration, had formulated a strategy of nuclear cooperation with India “to contain China, regardless of non-proliferation”. Shen noted that India too “may not feel good at China’s rise and the warming Sino-US relations make it feel left out”. He hoped that India could be “excited by… an improving and stable China-US relationship” rather than be pressured by it.
“If the US needs to cooperate with India to develop civil nuclear energy, it should be under the motive of improving non-proliferation institutions, not seeking advantage over China,” Shen added.
To other observers from afar, the “atmospherics” of Singh's red-carpet welcome to the White House and the “warmth on display” in Washington contrasted starkly with Obama’s heavily circumscribed visit to China last week, characterised by endless “treading on eggshells”.