- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 27, 2010

India-China policy fight

Behind the scenes within the Obama administration a vigorous debate took place over the president’s upcoming visit to India. The issue is whether the president will avoid all comments and meetings that are likely to upset China, or whether the United States will continue the Bush administration strategy of seeking a closer alliance with New Delhi as a counter to China.

Once again, as reported in this space last week, the debate involves a dominant group of policymakers who think the best way to work with China is to avoid upsetting the communist government.

On the other side are more moderate officials in a “sad and disappointed” group who favor shifting or dumping the administration’s two-year program of conciliatory policies toward Beijing.

The pro-China group, dubbed the “kowtow” faction by officials close to the debate, is fighting to keep out of the president’s speech in New Delhi next month anything that would upset China.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, walks through Section 60 at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., earlier this month. He is focusing on the problem of military suicides. (Associated Press)
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, walks through ... more >

That would include any reference to the Indian border state of Arunachal Pradesh that China is claiming as its territory, or meetings or references to the exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama or the Tibetan government in exile, both based in India.

The visit to India will be a showdown of sorts over as many as 10 national security and defense issues related to India and China.

The moderates think pro-China officials will use the India visit to roll back initiatives launched by President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld that are aimed to coaxing India, with its history of promoting nonaligned policies, into a closer U.S. policy orbit, using the future threat from China as the catalyst.

The programs being debated, in addition to India-China territorial dispute and U.S. support for the Dalai Lama, include:

• Should the United States continue to promote India’s leadership role in the region, amid criticism from China that New Delhi is becoming regional hegemon.

• Whether the United States should press India to cap its long-range missile and nuclear program, which China favors.

• Whether the president will go to bat for U.S. aircraft manufacturers and press India to buy up to 150 U.S. jet fighters worth an estimated $5 billion, instead of choosing European warplanes.

• Whether to let the U.S. military continue joint special operations force exercises with Indian special forces troops, and to continue promoting stepped up Indian naval visits to Japan, Guam and other Asian ports.

The soft-liners on China favor a presidential visit to India that will make it appear the United States and India have no special strategic relations and specifically that Washington is not supporting India in a grand strategy against China.

The moderates favor continuity with policies that work to help India become a strategic counterweight to China in the years ahead.

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