President Obama departs for India later this week on his first presidential visit to the world's largest democracy. Mr. Obama is expected to be seeking to further U.S. economic and security ties in Asia.
Amid persistent predictions that the next century will belong to Asia, Washington experts say it will be in the U.S. interest to forge some sort of alliance with India and also urge it to expand its Asia role.
They say U.S. President Barack Obama should urge India to take a "more active" role beyond South Asia, as one of the continent's leading democracies and largest economies at a time when the region is becoming increasingly anxious about a more assertive China.
They note that even U.S.-China relations have been tense lately. Last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described the relationship as complex, but of enormous consequence. "And we are committed to getting it right. Now there are some in both countries who believe that China's interest and ours are fundamentally at odds. They apply a zero sum calculation to our relationship, so whenever one of us succeeds, the other must fail," she said.
Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage says China should not see India's enhanced role in Asia as an attempt to rebalance Washington's relationship with New Delhi and Beijing. "It is not a containment of China. It is a recognition that the chance of a peaceful re-rise of China on the international stage can be increased if assisted by two strong democratic powers (U. S. and India)," he said.
Many regional experts say India should also be included in emerging East-Asian institutions, which bring together China, Japan and South Korea with Southeast Asian nations, Australia and the United States.
Former Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said, "I think it is very important from an American national interest standpoint that China recognizes that both the United States and India should have leadership roles in the Pan-Pacific and Pan-Asian institutions that are under development. So the security architecture for Asia in the future cannot just be all about China."
Some Indian officials express their concern in private that India is being hemmed in by China's expanding political and trade ties with Pakistan, Burma, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
Last year, New Delhi also expressed concern when a joint communiqué issued during Mr. Obama's visit to Beijing offered China a role in resolving tensions in South Asia, including the one between India and Pakistan.
Some observers say Mr. Obama's talks in New Delhi could re-assure India about its emerging role in Asia.
They also note India has no defense treaty with the United States, but it has become America's most frequent military exercise partner.
U.S. Naval War College Strategic Studies teacher Andrew Winner says the two countries should work on a unique relationship that bypasses a formal "treaty alliance"."We have got to develop some sort of a new way of interacting with a large state that is not an ally, it is not likely to become an ally. Similarly for the Indian side, for India has not had deep defense and security relations with anyone," he said.
The ground work for freeing U.S.-India relations from the Cold War legacy was begun when the late President Ronald Reagan welcomed then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to the White House in the 1980's, and the relationship was boosted under the presidencies of Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush. Experts say Mr. Obama has a chance to take them to a new level.