China: The Dragon in US “Garden”
After a disastrous mid term elections US President Barack Obama had possibly a very successful visit of Asia. While his tour schedule took him to India, Indonesia, South Korea and Japan, the theme of the visit remained China’s growing assertiveness in the, “garden,” so to say felt not just by all these countries but also the United States. This was more than evident in what the President and leaders of the countries said and did not say during their joint speeches, declarations and banquet toasts. The sweep of the Presidential tour, to four key nations which are feeling the challenge from China over the last few years was also symbolic.
The United States preoccupied by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Al Qaeda and the financial crisis over the past decade or so had been neglecting to what in diplomatic terms is called as, “gardening,” that is engaging your area of interest, Asia Pacific or metaphorically the, “garden,” intensely in all ways, politically diplomatically and economically. Thus suddenly faced with the Chinese Dragon the US seems to have been “shellacked” out of somnolence to take some aggressive diplomatic measures possibly starting with the Presidential visit. Chinese response to the current US overtures in the region and particularly Mr Obama’s visit has been muted as Beijing is not known to speak in a hurry unless the issue harms its core interests but would be known through actions in the days ahead.
President Obama’s visit to New Delhi in particular seemed to be all about balancing China at least to India watchers. The pre-emptive announcement of support by the US President for India’s permanent membership of the UN Security Council send a strong signal to Beijing the only one who has been reluctant to come out openly for the same. Though Indian representatives in the UN are hopeful of an early permanent seat in the Security Council this is not likely come through quickly given the large number of imponderables and the overall politics within the World body particularly since there has to be a total consensus for the same. The US President knowing this fact fully well found it prudent to throw his hat in the ring much before there is formal discussion of reforms in the UN obviously the intent was to signal acceptance of arrival of India on the global stage, a development the Chinese have noted.
It is well established that without the support of P 5, US Russia, UK, France and China no reforms of the UN would be possible. Expect for China all others seem to be inclined to support the Indian claim. There are other countries including Pakistan which are unwilling to do so and have a number of backers mainly regional rivals in various forums such as Italy, South Korea and Argentina who are opposing expansion of the UN at this stage in general and also inclusion of specific countries such as India, Germany, Japan and Brazil in the expanded council. Thus this issue may take much longer than the next two years to be resolved but the tempo is building up which is a good thing.
The announcement by the US President on the other hand strengthened the Indian hand and seems to have been done expressly to build good will in New Delhi. But India seems to playing some shrewd diplomacy of its own. The Indian Prime Minister Dr Man Mohan Singh some how seemed to be on China’s side on many of the issues which were discussed during the G 20 summit. With G 20 indicating a vertical split between the developed and the developing countries, Sino Indian relations seemed to be getting a boost for with Sino American relations remaining in a mode of contestation over currency problems, the Indian Prime Minister’s speech to balance the debate would have been sweet music to the Chinese who are facing pressure from Washington.
Western countries no doubt have seen limited recovery and thus are concerned over the Chinese currency policies that are favouring exports at the cost of domestic economies of the West. On the other hand developing countries are also concerned that the value of their exports and particularly the Chinese who have a largely export driven economy would be suffering in case of a major currency turbulence. By placing itself between the West and China, India is attempting a negotiating buffer and whether it can leverage this advantage will depend on diplomatic capacity of the country. Never the less the move seems to be a good one by the Indian side.
Sino Indian relations are also likely to see some developments during the visit of Premier Wen Jiabao to New Delhi in December. Meanwhile preparatory talks are being held and India’s External Affairs Minister Mr. S.M. Krishna is meeting his counterpart Foreign Minister Yang of China against the back drop of the Russia India China (RIC) talks.
The Chinese are also likely to be under more pressure internally at least till the Nobel awards ceremony is over. The release of Aung Suu Kyi in Myanmar and the thunderous ovation that she got by the masses would not have been lost on Beijing. For Obama it would be a personal triumph as he had championed Suu Kyi’s cause.
Despite this the Chinese Dragon in the garden will continue to be a concern, whether the US President was able to make the Dragon move and make space for the US to return to the region remains to be seen, but at least by making the right moves, Barack Obama has returned to, “gardening,” in the Asia Pacific, hopefully this time with a stronger commitment, sensing the new realities.
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Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle
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