04 September 2010

India To Discuss China With US Later This Month

NEW DELHI: Even as India formally protested to China about the presence of its troops in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, New Delhi is getting ready to engage the US on China.

Indian officials, led by Gautam Bambawale, joint secretary, East Asia, in the MEA, will be in Washington later this month for the second round of Asian strategic dialogue with Kurt Campbell, US assistant secretary of state for East Asia. While the dialogue will largely cover the two countries approach to Asian policies and strategies, China is likely to dominate the talks. The first round of the talks was held in New Delhi in April, where India and the US for the first time shared perceptions and assessments about China, followed by other countries like Myanmar.

A lot has happened with China since then. Both India and the US have had several run-ins with China on national security issues all of which are likely to be discussed.

In July, the US barged its way into the South China Sea debate at the Asean conference, what went unnoticed was that India joined 11 other countries to openly declare that the South China Sea should remain open for international navigation. It was an important statement, and it was made at the Asean Region Forum "retreat" meeting by MoS external affairs Preneet Kaur. It was made in response to China's declaration that the South China Sea would to be an integral part of Beijing's "core" interest, along with Tibet and Taiwan.

India retains a strong interest in keeping sea lanes open in the South China Sea. Apart from helping secure energy supplies for countries like Japan and Korea, India has the unique distinction of shipping oil from Sakhalin to Mangalore through this sea route. For China to maintain control over these waters would be very difficult for India to accept.

In the past few months, the US has upped the ante with China on the national security front -- its naval exercises with South Korea in the Sea of Japan raised hackles in Beijing (even though the US refrained from conducting these exercises in the Yellow sea, which would have really riled the Chinese).

China has also stopped defence exchanges with the US, after the Obama administration carried out arms sales with Taiwan.

China has been hurting India's own core interests lately, with the matter coming to a head when Beijing refused to allow the visit of the Indian army's GOC-in-C northern command because his command included Jammu & Kashmir.

There is a growing perception in India that the Chinese military establishment is playing a different foreign policy script than the foreign office in Beijing. This perception has been strengthened over the past couple of years, which makes India's diplomacy on China a lot more difficult.