The failure of President Barack Obama to understand the distrust of China in large sections of the Indian civil society has landed the US in a situation in which the considerable goodwill between India and the US created during the administration of his predecessor George Bush stands in danger of being diluted by his unthinking words and actions.
2. The distrust of China in the Indian civil society is much deeper than even the distrust of Pakistan. Even today, despite Pakistan's continued use of terrorism against India, there is some goodwill for the people of Pakistan in many sections of the Indian civil society. As against this, outside the traditional communist and other leftist circles, one would hardly find any section which trusts China ---its Government as well as its people.
3. The Indian distrust of China arises mainly from three factors. First, the Sino-Indian war of 1962. Second, China's role in giving Pakistan a military nuclear and missile capability for use against India. Third, the Chinese blockage of the pre 26/11 efforts in the sanctions committee of the UN Security Council to declare the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JUD), the parent organisation of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), as a terrorist organisation and its subsequent opposition for a similar declaration against the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JED).
4. The dubious Chinese stand on the issue of Pakistani use of terrorism against India is viewed by many in India as amounting to collusion.
5. The Indian suspicions of China have been magnified in recent years by Beijing's Look South policy. China is not a South Asian power, but it has sought to create for itself a large South Asian presence by developing a military supply relationship with the countries of the region, by helping India's neighbours in the development of their infrastructure of strategic importance such as ports and by supporting the Maoists of Nepal.
6. At a time when concerns in India over the increasing Chinese strategic presence and influence in India's neigbourhood have been increasing, it is an amazingly shocking act of insensitivity on the part of Obama and his policy advisers to project China as a benign power with a benevolent role in South Asia---- whether for promoting understanding between India and Pakistan or for influencing developments in other countries of the region.
7. It is politically naive on the part of Obama to expect that Indian political and public opinion will accept any role for China in South Asia in matters which impact on India's core interests. Bush's China policy had favourable vibrations in India by highlighting the threats that are likely to be posed by its military modernisation made possible by its economic power. A convergence of concerns over China between Washington and New Delhi laid the foundation for the strategic relationship between the countries.
8. Obama's projection of China as a trustworthy partner of the US in jointly tackling long-standing contentious issues in South Asia shows a shocking ignorance of the fact that China was one of the causes of the persistence of these issues. Its effort has always been not to promote mutual understanding and harmony in South Asia, but to keep India isolated by keeping alive the old distrusts and animosities and creating new ones.
9. At a time when Indian public opinion was looking forward to fruitful results from the forthcoming visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to the US, reports from Beijing on Obama's visit to China would strengthen the impression that Obama is not India's cup of tea. (19-11-09)
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: email@example.com )