The G-2 dilemma

The current dynamic between the US and China poses challenges for Delhi

The informal California summit over the weekend between the US and Chinese presidents, Barack Obama and Xi Jinping has unveiled a new phase in great power relations and demands a significant recalibration of India's recent foreign policy assumptions. Although the summit did not produce any major breakthroughs, its very conception is based on the American recognition that a measure of political understanding with China is necessary for the management of the challenges confronting Asia and the world.

Any talk of US-China collaboration makes India rather nervous. Two recent occasions come to mind. In June 1998, barely weeks after the Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests, presidents Bill Clinton and Jiang Zemin declared the intent to build a strategic partnership and promote non-proliferation in the subcontinent. New Delhi went into a paroxysm denouncing the prospects for a Sino-US "condominium" in Asia.

In a Beijing summit in November 2009, Obama and Hu Jintao declared their commitment to seek stability in the subcontinent. Travelling to the US three weeks later, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sought assurances from the US president that Washington's partnership with Beijing will not be at the expense of Delhi. Looking back a little further, in the early years of the Cold War, India continually urged America and the Soviet Union to end their confrontation and seek peaceful coexistence. When America and Russia sought to achieve precisely those objectives in the 1970s, Delhi became anxious about superpower hegemony and protested nuclear agreements between them that constrained India's strategic options.

The current dynamic between America and China will pose even greater challenges to Delhi. In the 1970s, Delhi neutralised the impact of Sino-American rapprochement by a tighter embrace of Soviet Russia. Today, Moscow is much closer to Beijing and is not eager to balance a rising China.

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