Beijing unfazed by US, India ties

Beijing unfazed by US, India ties
India's Border Security Force (BSF) "Daredevils" motorcycle riders perform stunts as they take part during the Republic Day parade in New Delhi January 26, 2015.

China is showing little sign of concern that warming relations between India and the United States - as demonstrated by US President Barack Obama's current visit to India - could affect its interests and influence in the region.

Observers attribute this to China's confidence that India pursues an independent foreign policy, which strikes a strategic balance among major powers, and also to its importance to India.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying, asked about Mr Obama's visit and the bilateral agreements in areas such as military cooperation, told a media briefing yesterday: "The US and India are both influential countries in the Asia-Pacific.

"We hope the development of US-India ties will help improve mutual trust and cooperation between countries in this region and also help maintain regional peace, stability and prosperity."

The tone was more positive compared to a Xinhua commentary on Sunday that described Mr Obama's visit as "more symbolic than pragmatic, given the long- standing division between the two giants, which may be as huge as the distance between them".

The commentary mentioned India's expulsion of US diplomats last year over the treatment of an Indian diplomat in New York and how Mr Narendra Modi had been barred from the US after the deadly 2002 Hindu-Muslim riots in Gujarat, when he was governor.

"But that is not all to that. What lies under the superficial rapprochement is nothing short of a deal," it said, adding that the three-day visit is not enough for both leaders to become true friends given differences on issues such as climate change.

On Sunday, the two sides broke a deadlock in a stalled civil nuclear cooperation deal and also announced a joint vision statement on the Asia-Pacific and South Asia regions.

The visit is seen as a bid to reinvigorate the US' pivot to the Asia-Pacific by using India as a counterweight to China.

The nationalistic Global Times, in a commentary yesterday, put the argument that India is leaning closer to the US to try to contain China down to Western stereotyped thinking that Beijing and Delhi are "natural rivals".

The neighbours, it stressed, are not engaged in a zero-sum game as "the common interests they share are way larger than any differences" and there is more space for cooperation than contention.

But some analysts believe the US visit may compel China to look at ways to improve ties with India, given changes in foreign policy under Mr Modi since he became Prime Minister last May.

Peking University's South Asia expert Jiang Jingkui said though China is confident of its strong ties with India, it will not sit idly by while countries like the US and Japan get cosy with its neighbour.

"We can expect China to make some adjustments in the bilateral relationship and unveil them when Mr Modi visits China, likely later this year," he said.

Mr Modi's perceived snub of Chinese President Xi Jinping's invitation to the Apec summit last November has reportedly already given China cause for concern.

China would also be peeved if a reference to maritime tensions in the South China Sea in Sunday's joint vision statement means that India is planning to step up its involvement in oil and gas exploration in the waters there.

Chinese Association for South Asian Studies president Sun Shihai told The Straits Times that China will have to act as a more assertive India may affect China's interests in South Asia, which have reportedly taken a hit after Sri Lanka's China-friendly President Mahinda Rajapaksa was ousted at the polls this month.

New President Maithripala Si- risena has pledged to scrap a Chinese investment project to build a new port city in Colombo, which has been included in China's "21st Century Maritime Silk Road", a major foreign policy initiative launched by Mr Xi to deepen trade links with neighbours.

"The smaller countries in South Asia are keen to cooperate more with China but they don't want to offend India which views the region as its backyard. So things may slow if they see tension in ties between China and India," added Professor Sun.

This article was first published on January 27, 2015.
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