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India Keeps Silent About Nobel Ceremony Plans as China Summit Approaches

India Keeps Silent About Nobel Ceremony Plans as China Summit Approaches
India Keeps Silent About Nobel Ceremony Plans as China Summit Approaches

India has formally announced dates for this month's planned visit of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. But Delhi still refuses to say whether it will send someone to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony honoring a Chinese dissident in Oslo. The timing of the two events is causing discomfort.

India's Foreign Ministry specified Tuesday that China's Wen Jiabao will come here for a state visit from December 15 to 17. Five days before his arrival, on the 10th, the Nobel Committee is scheduled to confer this year's Peace prize on Liu Xiaobo - a Chinese democracy advocate serving a prison sentence for what Beijing calls "subversion."

18 countries have joined China in boycotting the Nobel ceremony, including India's main rival Pakistan, an ally of China. Beijing has warned there will be economic "consequences" for those nations which do send a representative to the ceremony.

The imminent arrival of the Chinese leader creates awkward timing for Indian officials, who say they are still examining the issue of whether to attend the Nobel ceremony. Irritating Beijing so soon before a summit, some fear, could weaken the likelihood of progress on difficult issues such as an India - China border dispute. India is also seeking to become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council - something China, already a permanent member, is in a position to block if it chooses.

Bhaskar Roy, a China researcher with the South Asia Analysis group, believes the chances of India boycotting the Nobel event are about "fifty-fifty" based on Delhi's desire for a smooth summit with China. However, he says there is a moral imperative for India to send a representative.

"Indians have been the recipient of the Nobel peace prize, and it will not be right for India to withdraw from this one under duress," he said.

Roy and other analysts see even more important strategic implications to staying away from the Nobel ceremony.

B. Raman, a former Indian Cabinet secretary, says failing to attend will send the wrong signal about India.

"We project ourselves as a weak power, amenable to pressure from China. And that kind of image you should not project," said Raman.

Looking weak now, says Raman, will only encourage more attempts at intimidation by China in the future. That consideration, he says, is even more important over the long term than upholding India's global image as an advocate of democracy.

"The moral aspect, people tend to forget over a period of time. But the strategic aspect, people remember for a long time," added Raman.

India has never skipped a Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in previous years.