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2 'Headless chickens' and the China
threat By M K Bhadrakumar
It is not very often that a top diplomat
publicly ridicules parliamentarians or media
persons in his country as "headless chickens", but
that is what India's ambassador in the United
States, Ronen Sen, has done.
combative tone, the 64-year-old diplomat was
punching hard at the critics back home of the
India-US civilian nuclear cooperation agreement,
commonly known as the "nuclear deal".
"deal" has set Indians against Indians. Sen's
mind a statement by Robin Raphel, a US assistant
secretary of state in the mid-1990s - somewhat
before India and the US discovered they were
"natural allies" - that all it takes is an hour
for Washington to raise a political storm in
The heart of the matter is that the
political debate in India has lost transparency.
No one in the Indian establishment is able to
explain cogently what this nuclear agreement is
all about. The Americans are consistent in placing
proposed nuclear cooperation within a broader
framework of "strategic partnership" with India.
This is taking shape in the nature of close
military ties not only bilaterally but also in the
direction of India's induction into the United
States' security tie-ups with its principal Asian
allies - Japan and Australia.
Indian stances But the Indian
establishment fights shy of identifying with the
US projection of the developing strategic alliance
with India, even though it has no quarrel with it.
The Indian side maintained two years ago when it
all began that the nuclear deal was a major
initiative for India's energy security. But it
soon transpired that even if India goes in
dramatically for nuclear power plants in the next
15-year period, that can only meet something like
5% or 6% of the country's anticipated energy
So the argument shifted to
underscoring that the deal was all about getting a
now-friendly United States to lift its 1974 ban on
the flow of high technology to India, which was
imposed by Washington when India first blasted a
nuclear weapon in 1974. But then critics pointed
out that the agreement retained the US ban on
"dual-use" technology. So the argument ran into a
cul-de-sac. But not for long. It ducked, and
slithered on to new turf - that the deal is plain,
That is to say,
realpolitik demands that India should exploit the
window of opportunity arising out of the United
States' need to "contain" China's phenomenal rise
in the 21st century. The argument goes that
Washington is viewing India as a "balancer" in the
international system. Some Indian strategic
analysts are convinced that George W Bush, who is
the "friendliest" US president that India has ever
dealt with, and India must make the most out of
To quote Sen, "We [Indians] will not,
and there has not been and I don't think in the
near future we will see such a friend and
supporter as this president. Absolutely. There is
none." It is seldom that diplomats speak with such
passion and intensity about friendships.
But to be with Bush, or not to be - that's
not quite the question, either. The main issue now
is China and, to a lesser extent, Pakistan. China
is appearing at the epicenter of the Indian
rationale for the nuclear agreement. "To stop
negotiations [over the deal] ... will only help
China," said one Indian expert who visualized the
leaders in Beijing "gloating over" the predicament
that faces the Indian government in its inability
to command majority support for the deal in
Parliament, mainly because of opposition from the
Another Indian expert
added, "The main beneficiaries of the deal getting
delayed, from a strategic point of view, are China
and Pakistan - in that order. So whose interests
are we protecting? If the deal is delayed or
scuttled, it would allow the Chinese to acquire
unipolarity in Asia. Countries like Russia, France
and even Japan would like India on board because
its presence would provide a sense of equipoise to
the equation in the Asian strategic grid."
Yet another Indian thinker concluded, "The
choice presented to India is stark and simple.
Either India integrates itself with the global
powers or it isolates itself to be dominated by
China and perpetually countervailed by Pakistan."
The Indians have tied themselves in knots.
There seems to be embarrassed silence in
Washington. The theorist who saw all international
politics as a chessboard, former US national
security adviser Zbigniew Brzezenski, would feel
confused at hearing the Indian experts waxing on
his pet subject. The "balancer" par
excellence in modern diplomacy, Henry
Kissinger, must be having a wry smile. Bush's
close friend, US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson,
would turn red in his ears.
Clearly, it is
impossible for Washington to see eye to eye with
the Indian doctrine that the international system
arrays the "world powers" against China. Paulson
wishes to see China as one of the most important
"stakeholders" in the international system.
Paulson sees a China that is estimated to hold
more than US$900 billion in a mix of US bonds. And
when China sold a net $5.8 billion of Treasury
bonds in April, he took careful note.
Paulson is a China expert from his days as
head of Goldman Sachs. Bush's choice of him as
treasury secretary was itself a measure of the
crucial importance that Washington attaches to
calming the waters of the United States' relations
with a rising China. The hard fact is that the US
Treasury has no currencies to redeem its debt.
Washington knows it has no hegemony over China's
Seventy percent of the goods on
Wal-Mart's shelves are made in China. The
manufacturing centers in China are subsidizing
American consumers. Roughly half of the United
States' imports from China are "offshored"
production by US companies. The US