China's Pakistan deal casts cloud over Bush visit

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 March, 2006, 12:00am

Beijing pushes diplomatic envelope on Indo-US nuclear pact

US President George W. Bush's three-day visit to India which began yesterday is being touted as an epoch-making event, with the Indian media comparing it to former president Richard Nixon's landmark trip to Beijing in 1972.

The importance of the visit is highlighted by the fact only four serving US presidents have visited India since independence: Dwight D. Eisenhower, Nixon, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

But China is expected to cast its shadow over Mr Bush's historic visit. Discussions between Mr Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on a proposed nuclear-technology agreement will now also have to take into account the decision by China to sell two nuclear power plants to neighbouring Pakistan.

On Tuesday China agreed in principle to supply two 325MW nuclear power plants. A senior Pakistani government official said China had agreed to the deal when President General Pervez Musharraf visited last week.

'By making the announcement on the eve of the Bush visit, China has pushed the diplomatic envelope in order to influence the exchanges on the Indo-US nuclear agreement,' said Sujit Dutta, a strategic affairs expert with the New Delhi-based Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses.

'It's now 100 per cent certain that both the American and the Indian sides will take note of the latest development in the Sino-Pak nuclear relationship,' he added. 'What China is basically telling the US is that if you can do something with India, we can also do something with Pakistan.'

Even though it appears unlikely Mr Bush and Dr Singh will be able to finalise what would have been a ground-breaking agreement on the sale of civilian nuclear technology to India during today's summit meeting in New Delhi, the visit is seen as highly significant in strengthening the growing strategic relationship between the two nations.

'India is a natural partner and we have shared, common interests,' Mr Bush said shortly before leaving Washington. 'I look forward to discussing ways to advance our strategic partnership when I visit India.'

But to what degree will this dialogue, based on a blueprint for co-operation signed by Washington and New Delhi more than three years ago, include joint Indian and US concerns about the growing military might of China?

Though Washington and New Delhi have repeatedly asserted that the exchanges forming the backdrop of Mr Bush's historic visit are not directed against Beijing, opponents of closer Indo-US ties are not fully convinced.

'What does the strategic partnership with Washington portend?' said Prakash Karat, general secretary of the Communist Party of India-Marxist.

'First, it's an attempt by the US to co-opt India into its strategy for Asia. It encompasses both the long-term plan of the US for the containment of China, and for the reordering of West Asia so as to establish total US hegemony in the region,' Mr Karat said in an opinion piece published in a national weekly.

Professor Dutta said that although China was bound to figure in the Bush-Singh dialogue, it would not be in the context of 'containment'.

'The US is too deeply engaged with China - in fact, more than with India - so it has long given up the theory of 'containment',' he said. 'What America is seeking is a balancing of China in Asia.

'So China would figure in the strategic talks, but I suspect more in the context of larger strategic issues and the overall security environment in the region.'

Some analysts also link Mr Bush's desire for enhanced co-operation with India on terrorism to a perception in Washington that China is not fully supportive of the 'war on terror'.

'Many current inhabitants of the Pentagon see an India allied to the US as a potential bulwark to a China whose ambitions are still difficult to read,' Washington-based Indian historian Sunil Khilnani told Outlook magazine.