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Ties with US, China: All is well, says government

By Saisuresh Sivaswamy
November 17, 2011 18:29 IST
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While the delegation accompanying Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh on his 9th India-Asean summit said that the India-China relationship was a 'complex' one, they also emphasised that India-US relations were in good shape, reports Saisuresh Sivaswamy, who is a part of his media delegation accompanying the prime minister to Bali.

Ahead of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's bilateral meeting with United States President Barack Obama on November 18 in Bali on the sidelines of the India-Asean summit (lasting one hour, according to the official itinerary handed over to the accompanying Indian media), highly placed sources in the government sought to rebut the impression that the two democracies had lost their way in the labyrinth of domestic preoccupations.

Addressing the media in New Delhi, the sources emphasised that the India-US relations were in "good shape". "We are doing well, the situation is evolving, if you look at it we are doing many more things together than before, in West Asia, North Africa etc. We are consulted on a range of issues," the sources said.

On the nuclear deal between the two nations, which has been vexed by the question of supplier liability, it was for the US to say if the new proposals limiting the period of liability to five years was ok or not. "There is a reality you have to accept, and that is that you cannot say Indian laws won't apply," the sources said.

The talks between the two sides will cover bilateral relations as well as the situation in the region, apart from economics. While maritime security will be discussed, it won't be the centrepiece of the talks.

Perhaps so, but that maritime security is an issue of concern in the region, especially in the face of Chinese intent to call the shots in the region it considers its backyard, is evident from the fact that it will also be discussed at the East Asia Summit on Saturday, with several proposals being lined up before the EAS.

From India's viewpoint, the issue is, who owns South China Sea, the sources said, and that all nations including China have accepted the law of the sea. While China prefers to deal with the issue on a bilateral basis with countries in the region, the latter prefer to deal with it as a group. India's own standpoint, while welcoming discussions on the subject, is that right of passage is important.

Ahead of the meeting between Dr Singh and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on Friday, the sources also categorised the relationship between the two Asian giants as "complex, with elements of cooperation and competition" between them. You can take slices of it and analyse them separately and conclude that intrusions are high etc, but if you look at the big picture over the last 10 years, it is clear that both sides have improved capabilities, the sources said.

Terming the two nations as "mirror images" of each other, the sources said what mattered was the balance between the two sides. "Over 10 years the Chinese presence has increased, but so has ours."

The other aspect of the complex relationship between the two sides was the phenomenal trade between them. With China emerging as India's single largest trading partner in goods (the US is the largest if services were also included), and given the growth in the two nations, "a whole clutch of economic issues have arisen".

The third aspect to the India-China relationship was that while in the past it was a one-issue one, the border, today the two sides have enormous political interaction, and are ready to discuss maritime security, in fact everything. That is because, the sources said, we are both looking for the same thing, to be allowed to grow uninterruptedly.

Border intrusions from the Chinese side was less, the sources said, but at the same time the capability was higher. Refusing to put too big a spin on Chinese troops crossing over to plant the flag on the Indian side etc ("it's ok, we do the same thing too"), the sources said the ties between the two sides was hardest to manage and predict because the pace of change was so fast.

Naturally, then, the Special Representative level talks between the two sides on the border issues has not been "loaded with a timeframe", with the laborious process of fixing a framework being underway.

"The real issue is that China needs your market and you need their market," the sources said, and the trick is to do it in such a manner that your industries are not affected.

On the arming of Maoists issue, the sources said while it was true that Chinese-made arms were found on them, China was not arming them. "What is disturbing is that weapons are all over the place, and the biggest manufacturer of cheap weapons is China."
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Saisuresh Sivaswamy in New Delhi