Monday, January 14, 2008

India/China: No Need to Panic, Yet

Prime Minister Singh's visit to China seems unlikely to produce any major breakthroughts in the relationship between Beijing and New Delhi. Singh will not go home with any equivalent to the Russo-Chinese border treaty that once and for all ended disputes over territory. A free trade arrangement is not on the horizon, as Indian companies don't want to see China accorded free market status and to open up India even more to Chinese firms able to undercut Indian prices. Nuclear cooperation seems pretty rhetorical at this point. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization--no mention so far as I can tell.

But perhaps this is the best that could be achieved under the circumstances. China's strategy seems to be the one it pursued with South Korea--let the trade and business ties grow first, then the politics will follow. Let China displace the United States as the major trade partner, and see what happens from that. Certainly, the Chinese prime minister Wen Jibao kept using the rhetoric of partnership--but to what extent both Chinese and Indian elites believe that is an open question.

From Moscow's perspective, nothing to challenge Russia's preferential ties to India. For Washington, no sign that Beijing is in any position to capitalize on the recent difficulties slowing down American-Indian rapprochement. The U.S. appeal to India lives to fight another day.

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