US Asia policy: full embrace for India, competition with China

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Washington, Nov 18 (IANS) The United States looks at its relations with the two Asian giants entirely differently, taking India as a "strategic partner" with whose rise it has given "full embrace" and China as a rival superpower with whom it needs to "build a relationship".

The contrasting vision was laid out by a top aide of President Barack Obama saying while it has "given a full embrace of India's rise,"its ties with Beijing were more complex with "elements of both cooperation and competition."

The contrast came out as the president's national security advisor Tom Donilon this week outlined Obama's Asia Policy ahead of Obama's first foreign trip after re−election to South−East Asia at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

"The relationship with India is obviously rooted in history and it's rooted in a shared system of democracy. And it's a unique relationship that we're building out. It has different aspects to it," he said in response to a searching question from an Indonesian diplomat.

"The relationship with China is more complex." Donilon said. "We're trying to build a relationship − and a complicated relationship, multidimensional relationship that's profoundly important to both nations and to the world, between two systems that are very different."

Elaborating further Donilon said: With respect to India, we have given a full embrace of India's rise. The president went to India on a three−day trip, as you know, and stood beneath the picture of Mahatma Gandhi, and called for India's membership in a reformed Security Council.

"It's a full embrace of India's rise as a partner. And again, as two of the most important democracies in the world, it's an important strategic thrust for us as well," he said

Noting that there was "more of an element of competition" in Donilon's description of US relationship with China which was not there in case of India," Indonesia's ambassador to US Dino Patti Djalal had asked: "Is it too much for us in Southeast Asia, for example, to expect that one day there will be a strategic partnership between US and China?"

In the case of China, Donilon responded: "We're trying to build a relationship − a stable, productive, constructive relationship between the United States and China where there are elements of competition."

"We're trying to build a relationship between China and the United States against a backdrop of theoreticians who say that this is not possible to do; that history would point you to the inevitability of conflict between a rising power and a status quo power," he said. "We don't believe that."

"But there are challenges, obviously,... of the kind of relationship that we're trying to build, which is a unique setting, if you will, between the United States and China," Donilon said. "But we're committed to doing that. I think the Chinese leadership is committed to doing that as well."

Earlier during his speech, Donilon noted as part of forging deeper partnership with emerging powers "we've deepened our ties with India."

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Washington in 2009 "was the first official state visit of the Obama administration, building on President Obama's trip to India− a really historic trip to India in 2010, and our US−India strategic dialogue," he noted.

"We see India as a strategic partner for the 21st century, and as such, we welcome India's efforts to look east and play a larger role in Asia, including in the Indian Ocean," Donilon said.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)