India has long been regarded as an American ally but a series of missteps by the United States may be driving a strategic American partner directly into China’s embrace. One sign of that comes from India’s ministry of defense, which released its annual report last week. Cloaked in bureaucratic language is the highly significant revelation that relations between India and China have “generally progressed well in the last year based on their strategic and cooperative partnership” and that “there has been a convergence of views and actions on various issues of international fora.” This is bad news for the United States, but an outcome largely of its own making. Washington has needlessly provoked India on a vital issue, pushing New Delhi towards Beijing.
The American blunder has come over climate change policy at the United Nations, and reached its peak at the Copenhagen conference last December. Meeting in Beijing November 29, officials from Brazil, South Africa, India and China (known as BASIC), and Sudan (chair of the Group of 77 developing countries) drafted a joint document with four “non-negotiable” elements that would guide their behavior in Copenhagen. They would never accept legally binding greenhouse gas emissions cuts, mitigation actions that are not paid for by the developed countries, international (foreign) measurement of their mitigation actions, nor the use of climate change as a trade barrier by the developed countries. Having protected their economies from outside pressure, they would then insist that legally binding restrictions be imposed on the developed countries. As Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh stated, “BASIC countries are basic reality.
The BASIC-Group of 77 bloc deadlocked the UN conference, as the U.S. insisted that no agreement was possible without some mandates being imposed on all parties. As the summit neared its end, President Barack Obama barged into a private meeting between Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and demanded a compromise be reached. The resulting Accord did not impose mandates on any country, and thus should have diffused the confrontation. But the UN process continues, officially still based on conflict between the developed and developing nations over who will be required to make cuts. The next negotiating session is scheduled for April 9-11 in Bonn, Germany. It is likely two additional sessions will be scheduled before December when another large Copenhagen-style meeting is set for Cancun, Mexico.
If the Obama administration renews its push to impose mandatory emission controls on India and the other developing countries, it will push New Delhi even closer to Beijing. India understands that UN controls would be devastating to its economy, and its scientists are very skeptical about the entire climate change issue (as they should be). Washington must understand India’s position and back off, so the two countries can better cooperate on the much more important strategic interests which they share.
India and China may be allies at the UN, but they are rivals in Asia. The Indian ministry of defense report notes, “India also remains conscious and alert about the implications of China’s military modernisation….Rapid infrastructure development in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and Xinjiang province has considerably upgraded China’s military Force projection capability and strategic operational flexibility.” The MoD says that, “Necessary steps have been initiated for the upgradation of our infrastructure and force structuring …along the northern borders.” Tibet is a sour spot between India and China, as it has become between the U.S. and China. Beijing declared that relations with Washington have been “severely undermined” by the February meeting between President Obama and the Dalia Lama.
Tibet has historical and cultural links to India which have been severed by China’s occupation. India moved 60,000 additional troops to the border last summer, a deployment condemned by Beijing. An editorial in the Communist Party’s publication Global Times stated, “The tough posture Singh’s new government has taken may win some applause among India’s domestic nationalists. But it is dangerous if it is based on a false anticipation that China will cave in.” The editorial went on in a very harsh tone,
India is frustrated that China’s rise has captured much of the world’s attention. Proud of its “advanced political system,” India feels superior to China. However, it faces a disappointing domestic situation which is unstable compared with China’s.
India likes to brag about its sustainable development, but worries that it is being left behind by China. China is seen in India as both a potential threat and a competitor to surpass.
But India can’t actually compete with China in a number of areas, like international influence, overall national power and economic scale. India apparently has not yet realized this.
The editorial also raised the specter of India joining with the United States and Japan in creating a “ring around China.” It is just such an alliance of Asian democracies that should be the objective of American diplomacy.
Washington and New Delhi also have a common interest in defeating Islamic radicalism. The MoD reported favorably the deployment of more U.S. troops in Afghanistan, stating that “the security and stability of Afghanistan is critical to India’s own security concerns.” The use of Pakistan as a sanctuary for Islamic terrorist has been a concern of India since long before 9/11 because of attacks in Kashmir. A government in Islamabad that sees Islamic terror as a threat to its own security, rather than an opportunity to conduct proxy wars against its neighbors, is in both U.S. and Indian interests.
The MoD report says “all parameters of proxy war are at an all time low and the current situation indicated a shift towards normalcy and peace.” This is to a large extent due to American influence on Pakistan. The problem has not gone away completely, however, as the MoD notes, “The continued infiltrations across the LoC [Line of Control] and the existence of terrorist camps across the India-Pak border however, demonstrate the continuing ambivalence of Pakistan in its actions against terrorist organisations.”
American and Indian influence and pressure on Pakistan reinforces the efforts of both nations to keep a more moderate, democratic Islamabad focused on eradicating terrorist sanctuaries to avoid a wider war.
There is a China angle to this issue as well. Beijing has long counted Pakistan as an ally against India and has been happy to see tensions on India’s northwest frontier divert New Delhi’s military resources away from the Chinese front. Beijing continues to provide Pakistan with most of its armaments, including help with its missile and nuclear programs. The Chinese are completing a new deep-water port at Gwadar, where they have also helped to build a major new international airport. Beijing intends that the port will give their expanding navy access to the Indian Ocean and to the world’s key oil-shipping routes. The U.S. and India (as well as Japan) have a common strategic interest in preventing such an expansion of Chinese power.
A new year of UN negotiations on climate change should not be allowed to disrupt U.S.-Indian relations. The Accord reached last year was the best of all possible outcomes in what has been a fatally flawed process. The Accord should be interpreted as acknowledgement that all nations have the right to pursue economic and environmental policies in their own interests. It should be seen as the end of the UN madness about climate as a zero sum game of international conflict. Moving forward, the U.S. should build on its agreement with India to cooperate in the expansion of nuclear power on the subcontinent. This is a positive program that supports growth while also minimizing green house gas emissions for those who are concerned about such things.
Climate change is a chimera that can only detract from the real factors that will govern the balance of power in Asia and thus the evolution of international politics. Handing China an issue with which it can unite the developing world against the United States has been a mistake of the first order that must be put to an end.