India and China will likely sign a nuclear deal during Chinese President Hu Jintao's ongoing four-day state visit to India.
Chinese nuclear scientists are already meeting with their counterparts in India, to finalise a deal that will facilitate the exchange and purchase of nuclear technology between the two nations.
Reporting on the development, Jehangir Pocha of the Boston Globe says a formal announcement is likely on Thursday.
When it comes, the announcement - and the terms and conditions contained therein - is apt to mirror the Joint Statement signed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and United States President George W Bush on July 18, 2005, during the former's state visit to Washington, DC.
An India-China deal, the Boston Globe points out, will mark an escalation of cooperation between the two nations.
It could also set the cat among the pigeons as far as the US is concerned. Just last week, the US Senate approved enabling legislation, mirroring House of Representatives action in July this year, which facilitates nuclear cooperation between India and the United States.
Ron Somers, president of the US-India Business Council, a consortium of 220 American industry giants doing business in India, was categorical when he told rediff.com that such a deal would result in over 270,000 new high-paying jobs being created in the US, plus billions of dollars worth of new business to US industry.
An Indo-China deal, if and when it happens, sets up competition between China and the US for the Indian market where, earlier, US industry had hoped for a relatively free run.
Tracing the changing geopolitical scenario, the Boston Globe points out that President Bush has branded China a 'strategic competitor' as soon as he came to office in 2001.
Since India's burgeoning economy and muscular military can tip the balance of power in Asia, over the last year the United States and China have been trying to build closer ties with India, the Globe quotes Sun Shihai, deputy director of the Institute for Asia Pacific Studies at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, as saying.
"The US always said it wants to use India to balance China," Sun is quoted in the Globe. "China feels it needs to engage India more [and] develop some kind of Russia-China-India cooperation" that can balance US hegemony. "So there is some kind of competition happening."
China had, the Globe points out, been initially critical of the Indo-US deal, on the grounds that it violated international nonproliferation principles.
Sun however told the Globe that President Hu has been insistent on repairing ties with India; the Globe quotes an unnamed `official in New Delhi knowledgeable about the nuclear negotiations with China' as saying that the Indo-China deal, if it goes through, will largely be the fruit of Hu's efforts.
On the Indian side, the point man for the Indo-China deal is National Security Advisor MK Narayanan, the Globe reports.
Analysing the deal, the Globe points out that one reason many Indian officials want a deal with China is that they believe it will restore some balance to India's foreign policy.
"Traditionally, India's always been nonaligned and had an independent foreign policy," an official in New Delhi familiar with the negotiations is quoted by the Globe. "Recently, India had been moving very close to the US, and with this deal India will become equidistant between the US and China."
India is also worried that the deal Bush signed with Dr Singh still needs to be ratified by the US Congress. "One reason we went for the Chinese offer is that we think the final [nuclear cooperation] bill Bush signs, after all the amendments from Congress tags onto it, will not be acceptable to India," a senior Indian intelligence official told the Globe.
The Globe further points out that just as China hopes its warming ties with India will draw India away from the United States, India hopes closer relations with China will dilute Beijing's close relationship with Pakistan.