Asia Foundation Proposes Cooperation 'Triangle' for US, China, India

A call for the establishment of a diplomatic "triangle of cooperation" - among the United States, India and China - is receiving a mixed reception at its unveiling in New Delhi.  

The influential Asia Foundation has rolled out its recommendations for the Obama administration's policy towards India.  And, one key suggestion is hitting a log jam.

It is the call for three-way cooperation among Washington, New Delhi and Beijing. Proponents say such an effort will be essential to helping solve such thorny regional issues as instability in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The proposal, put forward by a task force of distinguished academics and diplomats, is in a chapter authored by former American Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Karl Inderfurth.

"There have been some who have suggested that our approach to India and our strengthening of relations has been part of a containment of China - a hedge against China's  rise," he said.  "I think this would be a grave mistake.  I know my Indian colleagues and friends would not want to be involved, in any way, shape or fashion, of a containment policy against China.  We need to engage both countries on their own merits and find ways that we can work together."

The "cooperative triangle" is one of seven points for Indo-American relations put forth in a volume of policy recommendations, titled "America's Role in Asia," being released this week by the Asia Foundation.

The other six recommendations proposed:  strengthening strategic ties;  doubling two-way trade over the next several years;  a broader nuclear dialogue;  allowing  American universities to operate in India;  support by Washington for a permanent Indian seat on U.N. Security Council;  and, collaboration to stabilize Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

The set of proposals earned a quick endorsement from the Indian prime minister's special envoy, Satinder Lambah.

"I fully agree with the seven-point agenda which has been given out by Karl Inderfurth," he said.  

Others here, however, are less optimistic about the quick realization of an equal diplomatic partnership involving India, China and the United States.

Former Indian Ambassador to the United State Naresh Chandra said Beijing needs to alter its regional diplomacy before there can be talk of an equitable three-way relationship.

"The Chinese moves in our neighborhood display a certain pattern, which is somewhat disturbing.  Their moves in Burma or with Pakistan;  there is a kind of encirclement [of India] approach which we hope will change, over time," he said.

Chandra, also a former Indian cabinet secretary, called China's "circle of friends" - including Burma, North Korea, Sudan and Zimbabwe - "not that honorable."

Alarming to some veteran Indian diplomats is what they perceive as a recent shift by China to a strident tone, after India concluded an unprecedented civil nuclear cooperation agreement with the United States, last year.

Former Indian National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra noted China's state-controlled think-tanks and media are reopening old wounds, thought healed by Indo-Sino diplomatic agreements.  These include the war between India and China, in 1962, and the sovereignty of two Indian states on Tibet's borders - Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh - where a significant percentage of the people follow Tibetan Buddhism.

"We have been reminded every other week about the humiliation we suffered in 1962. They keep on saying 'don't forget 1962.' … And there has been talk about China occupying what it calls southern Tibet, which is Arunachal Pradesh in India," said Mishra.

Mishra, a career diplomat, said India's government will be closely watching how President Obama formulates strategy towards China, hoping it will not adversely affect America's blossoming relationship with India. 

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