- The Washington Times - Monday, April 2, 2001

America is entering a geopolitical moment: It now has the opportunity to forge a beneficial relationship with arising "good" superpower in a manner that provides a strong but positive balance to the rising "bad" superpower.
First things first. India is the "good" rising superpower. For more than 50 years, India has been a vibrant democracy. Just ask former Defense Minister George Fernandez, who recently resigned his portfolio because his underlings were caught taking bribes. Indians will be the first to admit their democracy is ponderous. But which one isnt? And it is the law that ultimately prevails in India.
China is the "bad" rising superpower. For more than 50 years, China has been ruled by the men who lead its Communist Party. Real democracy is forbidden and any other seemingly organized opposition is brutally crushed. Nor do the ruling communists seem to tolerate other Chinese democracies. Just ask Taiwan, or even Hong Kongs increasingly stifled democrats.
Both India and China are developing nations that have sectors of technological brilliance that contrast with areas of stark underdevelopment. The challenge for both is how to best throw off the shackles of socialism, which restrict opportunity and impede economic growth. Today foreign money bets on China, but the long-term edge may be with India. In India, successful entrepreneurs benefit from a legal system and are more likely to keep their rewards. In China, entrepreneurs must navigate a maze of corruption, and they can lose it all, and their lives, if they run afoul of the party.
Both India and China are now building nuclear missiles. One can question whether India started its nuclear missile race with Pakistan, but it now clearly behind, and cannot begin to match Chinas arsenal. Chinas expanding missile forces are pointed at its democratic neighbors Taiwan in particular. China sold Pakistan the means to build nuclear weapons and its new Shaheen solid-fueled missiles. At the same time, China is leading a global propaganda barrage against American missile defense plans. Some serious Indian defense experts suggest that cooperating with the U.S. in missile defense would benefit Indian security.
India and China are also competitors for future influence in South and East Asia. China wants to become the regions hegemon. So far, it is China that arms the states on Indias borders, not the other way around. Though successive U.S. administrations say they will prevent the rise of such a hegemon, Asians are hedging their bets. Asian states from Singapore to Japan are quietly looking for ways to increase their strategic cooperation with India.
So should Washington, if it wants to continue its positive influence in the same region. Unfortunately, India and the United States have been at cross-purposes for most of the last 50 years, be it the Cold War divide, North vs. South politics, and socialism vs. capitalism. So lacking in overarching mutual interests, U.S. relations with the worlds largest democracy have been driven by a train of important but secondary issues: conflict with Pakistan; conflict over Kashmir; and Indias nuclear program.
Former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr. tried to break out of this pattern by initiating a defense dialogue with India that was no doubt helped by the collapse of the Soviet Union. By the end of the Bush administration, the U.S. was even selling defense technology to India, like advanced engines for its Light Combat Aircraft program.
But this good beginning was cut down as the new Clinton administration sought to meddle in the Kashmir dispute. Any hope for improved defense ties were blown away by U.S. sanctions imposed following Indias 1998 nuclear tests. Most galling to Indians was the Clinton administrations willingness to echo Chinese demands that India abandon its nuclear program while doing nothing to stop Chinas nuclear traffic with Pakistan. It was simply shameful that CIA Director George Tenet could not publicly state that China was responsible for the sale of technology that enabled Pakistans new sold-fuel missiles until after Bill Clinton left town. Today more than 150 Indian entities are under U.S. nuclear-related sanction compared to less than a handful of Chinese entities.
It is time for the U.S. to break this pattern and seek strategic cooperative ties with India that demonstrate a U.S. recognition that Indias emergence as a future democratic superpower can benefit American security. For starters, the new Bush team would do well to state that the U.S. and India have an interest in preventing Chinas nuclear and missile proliferation and its quest to be a regional hegemon. Washington should also end nuclear-related sanctions that prevent the resumption of a defense dialogue, that at a minimum, should take up where the previous Bush administration left off.
Ultimately, both the U.S. and India would benefit from helping forces in China that would move it toward democracy. For each the levers to do so are few, but one stands out: By helping a billion Indians develop a democratic superpower in this century the U.S. can help prove to a billion Chinese that they can have prosperity together with the freedom they now lack.Richard D. Fisher Jr. is a senior fellow with the Jamestown Foundation.

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