NEW DELHI — As India’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh, arrives to a red carpet welcome in Washington today – the first state guest of President Barack Obama – commentators in India seemed more preoccupied with the United States’ growing friendship with China.
Ties between India and the United States are stronger than they have been in decades. Bilateral trade has surged, doubling since 2004 to more than $43 billion a year. Last year the two countries signed a landmark civil nuclear deal, agreed upon by Mr. Singh and former US President George Bush in 2005, that brought India out of nuclear isolation and symbolized a sea change in the countries’ political relationship. Indeed, the US sees a vital role for India in the battle against terrorism in Pakistan and Afghanistan and in a host of other issues from world trade to climate change.
But while talks between Mr. Singh and Mr. Obama scheduled for Tuesday are likely to focus on such matters as Afghanistan, climate change, and cooperation on nuclear energy, pundits in India are more interested in the question of where the US’s new friendship with China, as well as its relationship with Pakistan, leaves India.
“We may aspire to a seat at the high table of world power but China is already sitting at the head of the table along with the United States,” wrote journalist Gautam Adhikari in the Times of India Monday. “It has enough IOUs in its pocket to stop anyone from pushing it around. We also are a billion-strong nation, a democracy to boot and growing economically at a still impressive rate given the global conditions. But, realistically speaking, we are a second or perhaps third tier force in the eyes of the United States.”
A recent joint statement from Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao, which included a line of support for better Indo-Pakistan relations, was regarded in New Delhi as an expression of unwanted interference in a sensitive matter. For some, it raises the worrying specter of Chinese involvement in South Asian diplomacy – and at a time when India’s long running border row with China is especially tense. (Read about how each side recently provoked the other and escalated tensions on the border.)
“It seemed to suggest that India had simply fallen between two stools – Pakistan and China were urgent priorities for different reasons,” said an editorial in the Indian Express newspaper today.
India is also likely to urge the United States to take a tougher line on Pakistan, which it blames for harboring terrorists.
Read about how China and India’s rivalry is playing out on the high seas.