U.S. and India take their relationship beyond South Asia
President Obama’s 10-day trip to Asia kicked off with a three-day stay in India – and that’s no accident. The administration has been expanding its cooperation with India on a range of issues outside the South Asian subcontinent since this spring, when it began a high-level dialogue led by the State Department regarding how the ...
President Obama's 10-day trip to Asia kicked off with a three-day stay in India - and that's no accident. The administration has been expanding its cooperation with India on a range of issues outside the South Asian subcontinent since this spring, when it began a high-level dialogue led by the State Department regarding how the two countries could collaborate in East Asia.
President Obama’s 10-day trip to Asia kicked off with a three-day stay in India – and that’s no accident. The administration has been expanding its cooperation with India on a range of issues outside the South Asian subcontinent since this spring, when it began a high-level dialogue led by the State Department regarding how the two countries could collaborate in East Asia.
The effort, led jointly by the State Department’s East Asia and Pacific (EAP) and South and Central Asia (SCA) affairs bureaus, has involved two high-level meetings between U.S. and Indian officials. The first meeting, held in New Delhi last spring, was led by Assistant Secretary of State for EAP Kurt Campbell but also included Derek Chollet, deputy director for policy planning, and SCA’s Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Michael Owens. The second round, which took place in Washington in September, also included Assistant Secretary of State for SCA Robert Blake. Defense Department and National Security Council officials participated as well.
The U.S.-India dialogue on East Asia is the first of a series of new consultations between the United States and India. Two State Department officials tell The Cable that similarly structured dialogues are planned for coordinating U.S. and Indian policy on Afghanistan, Africa, and elsewhere. But the East Asia-focused dialogue is the first and the only one that has had formal meetings so far.
"One of the reasons the president went to India is to consecrate this notion of India as a global power," one State Department official said. "Asia is one of the key areas where we see India increasing its role and its influence and its engagements overall."
Along with Obama’s endorsement of India for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, the joint statement issued by Obama and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh codified the idea that the U.S.-India relationship was expanding to tackle global problems, specifically those in East Asia.
"The two leaders agreed to deepen existing regular strategic consultations on developments in East Asia, and decided to expand and intensify their strategic consultations to cover regional and global issues of mutual interest, including Central and West Asia," the statement read.
The officials made it clear that the U.S.-India dialogue on East Asia is not meant solely to devise strategies for combating China’s political and military rise.
"Both the Indians and the U.S. would 100 percent agree with the idea that the most important thing we have to do is we have to get China right. But this is not some conspiracy theory on containing China," one official said. But he did say that "India’s role can become very important when it comes to managing a variety of shifts that are taking place in the Asia-Pacific."
So far, the discussions have centered around how the U.S. and Indian approach to regional organizations like the East Asia Summit, and how the two countries can cooperate on issues like climate change, humanitarian assistance, and disaster response.
Many East Asia experts, however, suspect that the dialogue’s primary purpose is ultimately related to China’s growing power.
"It all comes down to China," said Patrick Cronin, director of the Asia Security Program at the Center for a New American Security. "China is right now an absolute ascendant power, even to the point where people are over projecting China’s rise. If you can deny China its two ocean strategy, you have the potential to enlarge the chess pieces."
The move is part of an overall administration effort to develop a more cohesive U.S. strategy in Asia, Cronin said.
"What the State Department has done is break down the previous geographical barrier that was raised between East and South Asia," said Cronin. "India just gives you so much more maneuvering room. State is trying to take advantage of that, deliberately so and wisely so."
He warned that the Indians might not be able to move toward such seamless coordination as quickly as those in the United States might want them to.
"There’s a massive hedging going on in Asia both for and against the U.S. and China. The Indians don’t want to be drawn into a tight alignment against China. They want to play it both ways," Cronin said.
Teresita Schaffer, director of the South Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, agreed that the dialogue represented "a significant change" in the countries’ cooperation in East Asia.
"India not only wants to be part of that game, they want to make sure the United States is. The United States is very interested in having India being part of that game," she said. "This is a shift of emphasis for both countries."
Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at email@example.com.
Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.
A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.
Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin
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