With China on mind, Obama for larger Indian role in East Asia

October 29th, 2010 - 8:46 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack Obama By Manish Chand
New Delhi, Oct 29 (IANS) China will be the elephant in the room when US President Barack Obama holds talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Nov 8 as the two countries prepare a joint statement that could talk of a bigger role for India in East Asia to counterbalance what is being seen widely as increasing Chinese assertiveness in the region.

The India-US joint statement that is being crafted together by top officials of both sides will envisage greater cooperation between India and the US in Southeast Asia, East Asia and in the larger pursuit of evolving an Asian architecture.

“The US supports a bigger global role for India in the world and in Asia, specially in East Asia,” senior officials told IANS. The US, however, advised India to maintain a positive relationship with China.

China will be among an array of global issues that will figure in discussions between Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when they sit down for wide-ranging talks here Nov 8, said officials. A bigger role for India in East Asia will be a key theme of Obama’s address to the joint session of parliament here Nov 8, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

China will be watching closely Obama’s maiden visit to India as it has watched warily the growing strategic congruence between Washington and New Delhi since the forging of the 2005 landmark India-US nuclear deal.

The US will try to assuage hurt feelings in India caused by the Nov 17, 2009 US-China joint statement that envisaged a monitoring role for China in resolving tensions between India and Pakistan and greater dialogue on issues relating to South Asia.

Manmohan Singh conveyed New Delhi’s concerns when he met Obama at the first state dinner hosted by the US President in his honour in November, 2009 and spoke about Chinese assertiveness while speaking to a US think tank last year.

“The Chinese assertiveness has driven its neighbours closer to the US,” Srikanth Kondapalli, a China expert at Jawaharlal Nehru University, told IANS.

The US-India joint statement will emphasise greater cooperation between India and the US in East Asia, said Kondapalli.

Obama’s visit to India comes at a time when Southeast Asian nations have invited the US and Russia to join the 16-nation East Asia summit and are also looking at India, a rising democratic power, to moderate Chinese ambitions in the region.

China has renewed claim to strategically placed islands in the South China Sea, but parts of the territory are also claimed by several Southeast Asian nations, including Vietnam, Japan, South Korea and Malaysia.

India has its own reasons to counter increasing Chinese assertivenes in Southeast Asia as it ramps up ties with Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia and other key ASEAN countries.

Manmohan Singh’s ongoing visits to Japan, Malaysia and Vietnam has seen the finalization of a landmark comprehensive economic cooperation pact with Japan and the signing of a landmark economic pact with Malaysia. India and South Korea Friday announced the finalisation of a civil nuclear pact.

China is, in fact, a running sub-theme during Obama’s four-nation Asia tour that includes two of the US key allies in the region - Japan and South Korea, and Indonesia, home to the world’s largest Muslim population, which is chafing against the growing Chinese influence.

To signal special ties with Southeast Asia, India will host Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono as the chief guest at next year’s Republic Day parade.

(Manish Chand can be contacted at manish.c@ians.in)

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