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Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may be the beneficiary of all the fanfare that comes with Barack Obama’s first state dinner in Washington today, but the spectacle marks the first time in a while India has been at the centre of US calculations.
One of the major foreign policy achievements of the George W. Bush administration (yes, there were some) was the push to boost ties with India. The US clearly saw India as a way of counterbalancing a rising China, and though I have mixed feelings about the Indo-US civilian nuclear agreement and the implications for non-proliferation efforts, Bush’s instincts overall were right on this.
But in the Obama administration’s efforts to improve ties with China (bending over backwards to do so, critics would perhaps not unreasonably say after his trip this month to Beijing) some of the good work under Bush looks like being undone.
An early sign of the shift was the abandoning of the Quadrilateral Initiative between the US, India, Japan and Australia, which last year included joint naval exercises. Another was pressure on India over Kashmir with an eye on freeing up more Pakistani resources for fighting the Taliban (I’m trying to imagine the reaction in Washington if India started pressuring/lecturing the US to resolve its disagreement with Japan over relocating its Okinawa airbase so it could focus its attention on China’s naval build up).
Will be interesting to see what comes of these talks, and how they’re viewed in India.
And, on an interesting side note, it looks like it won’t matter how the Obama-Singh meeting goes–the US media is set to be short-changed again at an Obama press conference. The Wall Street Journal blogs:
‘Over eight days in four Asian countries, Obama took all of two questions from the U.S. reporters whose organizations spent tens of thousands of dollars to follow him across the globe. White House aides shrugged off the criticism, saying they were only abiding by the rules of the host countries. A “press conference” in Beijing entailed opening statements from Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao, followed by no questions at all–zero.
‘Now the home turf is the White House and the trend continues. Customarily, press conferences with visiting heads of state have been truncated affairs, but they usually allowed three questions, maybe four, for each side.’