The unusually lengthy 4,228-word joint statement issued on November 17, at the conclusion of US President Barack Obama’s four-day visit to the People’s Republic of China, reflects the changing global geopolitical balance of power. It is an acknowledgement of China’s rise as a major world power and an attempt by the US to co-opt it into accepting greater responsibility in international affairs. Obama’s visit so early in his term and the broad scope of the joint statement confirm the importance of this bilateral relationship to both countries and, that China will be a locus of power in the emerging new world order.
Washington began signalling soon after installation of the Obama administration that it was contemplating recasting its China policy. In addition to the preferential treatment accorded to China at international gatherings because of its economic strength, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s visit to Beijing in February 2009, clarified the new administration’s changed tack on China.
Clinton travelled to Beijing amidst expectation that, in addition to explaining US’ revised Af-Pak policy, she would urge China to increase military aid to Pakistan. There were suggestions that she should request China to contribute military manpower to the forces deployed in Afghanistan. Enhanced US sensitivity to China was manifest when she omitted references to Tibet or human rights issues during talks with China. Coincidentally, the US commander in the Pacific offered, for the first time, to host talks between Chinese and Taiwanese military officials at the US base in Hawaii.
Other suggestions of heightened US sensitivity were its move to curtail funding for Radio Free Asia and Voice of America transmissions to China, which did not materialise due to resistance by the US Congress, and Obama’s failure to meet the Dalai Lama during his visit to Washington. After an interval of three years Washington received Xu Caihou, vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, in late October, marking the resumption of high-level military exchanges. Finally, Obama avoided mentioning Tibet and human rights issues during meetings with Chinese leaders recently, though he urged resumption of a dialogue with the Dalai Lama.
The five-part joint statement, quickly welcomed by Islamabad, includes two paragraphs which seriously impinge on India’s interests. These dwell on Indo-Pak relations and the strengthening and ratification of the NPT and CTBT. The US and China, one paragraph observes, would work for the ‘improvement and growth of relations between India and Pakistan…’. It asserts that ‘both sides are ready to strengthen communication, dialogue and cooperation on issues related to South Asia and work together to promote peace, stability and development in that region’. There is no specific mention of Kashmir, but the context makes clear that Kashmir will be on the agenda. Three areas where India will come under pressure in the near future are Afghanistan, Kashmir and the nuclear issue.
Pertinent to the joint statement also was the exchange between Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao, at their second summit meeting in Pittsburgh on September 22. Xinhua reported that Jintao urged Obama that ‘the two countries should push for a proper resolution to the regional issues relating to the Korean Peninsula, Iran and South Asia’. He mentioned Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang. Obama responded to Jintao’s remarks on all these, but refrained from commenting on South Asia. Jintao’s remarks represented a push at the highest level for recognition of China’s influence in the region of its perceived strategic interest.
The US had carefully begun choreographing a sequence of moves to achieve its immediate objectives even before Clinton’s visit to Beijing. Reports filtering out of Afghanistan hinted at an understanding between the US and China on security matters. The quiet deployment of US forces to protect workers of a state-owned Chinese corporation constructing a highway near Momaki village in Wardak province coincided with Clinton’s visit to Beijing. China meanwhile concluded a $3.5 billion deal to develop the Aynak copper deposit in Logar province, reputed to be the largest undeveloped field in the world. The agreement includes building a railway linking Afghanistan with China through Tajikstan and to Pakistan, the strategic importance of which is self-evident. It will upgrade the military logistics supply line to Pakistan, give China direct access to its investments in Afghanistan, and link them with its considerable interests in Pakistan. Recently, during Xu Caihou’s visit to the US, China is believed to have undertaken to clear landmines and train Afghan police and army personnel. Growing Chinese investments in Afghanistan would guarantee China a voice in Afghanistan’s future, which will simultaneously protect Pakistan’s interests.
The rapid pace of developments centring on Kashmir suggests the subject has figured previously in discussions between Washington and Beijing. Just days prior to the Hu-Obama summit in September, Chinese vice foreign minister He Zhengyue said China was willing to mediate between India and Pakistan if requested and the offer was repeated twice soon after the summit. Hurriyat ‘leader’ Mirwaiz Umar Farooq’s quick statement that China has a role in settlement of the Kashmir issue and disclosure that he will be travelling to Beijing — a first for any Hurriyat member — reinforces suspicion that Washington and Beijing have discussed Kashmir possibly keeping Islamabad in the loop. China’s stance on Kashmir is evident in its decision to issue loose-leaf visas to residents of Jammu and Kashmir, thereby designating the status of the entire state as disputed. Over the years, China’s close comprehensive ties with Pakistan have dictated its ambiguity on the Kashmir issue.
Beijing’s position, backed by Pakistan, on the Indo-US civilian nuclear agreement has been unyielding. The Obama administration has placed strengthening of the international nuclear non-proliferation regime high on its agenda along with ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty. These now figure in the joint statement. India should expect considerable combined pressure on this issue.
To stay relevant in the larger Asian region and before it is relegated to the margins of influence even in South Asia, it is essential for India to demonstrate that it will safeguard its strategic and territorial interests; at the same time consolidating and expanding its relationship with the US. Raising the level of non-military involvement in Afghanistan and isolating the Hurriyat in Kashmir could be a good beginning. In view of China’s unfriendly attitude over the past couple of years and with US acquiescing, albeit temporarily, to a role for it in the region, India should also prepare for increased military pressure along its borders.
About The Author;
Jayadeva Ranade is a former additional secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India