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Obama may change US policy on China: Brajesh Mishra

By A Rediff correspondent
November 26, 2008 00:44 IST
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Despite the historic victory of Barack Obama in the Presidential elections and 'the change' he has promised, Unites State's foreign policy would continue to be guided by its national interest as it has been since World War II, feels former National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra.

Chairing a discussion on 'Indo-US Nuclear Deal: Impact on Asian Security Framework' at Observer Research Foundation, Mishra said the Bush administration had been working on two key US strategies -- expanding eastward in Europe and balancing China.
"Obama will also do that," remarked Mishra, adding that while the new President-elect talks of international cooperation, he also says, "we have to lead it".
Mishra opined that the Indo-US nuclear agreement and better bilateral relations would lead to increased investments from the US. "This is a plus point in the Indo-US relations," he said.
Pointing out that the international situation has changed in the last few months following the financial crisis, Mishra said that he believed that Obama would seek China's cooperation to survive the economic crisis and perform well in the first four years, so that he can seek re-election.
General V P Malik, president of the Institute of Security Studies, which had organised the discussion, said that it is too early to assess the material gains from the nuclear agreement, especially in the hi-technology transfer area.
Giving the US and India perspective, former foreign secretary and former ambassador to US Lalit Mansingh also said that the US would continue its hegemony in the world, irrespective of whoever is the President.

"There would be continuity (in its foreign policy) though there may be some differences," he said. 

"Obama is not going to be hostile (to India), but at the same time, he is not going to be as friendly as President Bush," he added.  

Mansingh said that though President George W Bush articulated the Indo-US agreement, it had really taken off when the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency's studies stated that India was a 'swing state which would make the difference between war and peace.'

He described 1998 as a point of departure as far as the India-US relations were concerned, with the Clinton administration making a U-turn, months after it imposed sanctions on India after the Pokhran II nuclear tests.
Noting that the US military was under stress now, Mansingh said that the US only considers China as a potential threat, as it has the capability to challenge the US.

A strategic partnership with India will help US balance the China factor, he explained.
Mansingh was clear that there are no alternatives to the relationship between India and the US. However, he was not so certain about the possibility of friendly behaviour from China. In such a scenario, there wouldn't be anything as effective as the Indo-US relation, felt the former Indian envoy.

Former diplomat and strategic thinker M K Bhadrakumar, however, expressed a different point of view. He pointed out that the central issue was not Barack Obama's political personality, but certain new realities in the international system. Evidently, the crisis in the US economy cannot be viewed as a cyclical recession amenable to traditional remedies such as monetary and fiscal policies or 'spending the way' out of the depression.

He pointed out that the US needs huge infusion of funds from outside, and China was the only real source available for that. He reminded the audience that China was finally becoming -- what World Bank President Zoellick once termed a 'stakeholder' -- in the international system.

This leaves the US with no option but to revisit the thinking behind the containment strategy towards China, which has been noted in today's discussion as a major impetus behind the US-India strategic partnership and the nuclear deal.

 "The Americans may survive their closer relations with China," said Bhadrakumar.
He also opined that the nuclear deal has led to losses for the United States in the war in Afghanistan, as it had led to mistrust in Pakistan. 

Bhadrakumar also believes that the war in Afghanistan will be the top priority for the Obama administration, as the outcome can well determine Obama's re-election bid. At any rate, Obama would want to avoid Lyndon Johnson's tragedy of inheriting a war that ended up consuming his presidency and destroying his political career, he added.

Given Pakistan's crucial role, Obama will be compelled to define its 'legitimate' interests. "At the every least, we should expect an even-handed US policy towards Pakistan and India. That is to say, another postulate behind the nuclear deal, namely, that the US is committed to make a great power out of India, may prove a chimera." He said.
Giving the Chinese perspective, Dr Surjit Dutta, senior fellow at IDSA, said that though China was not happy about the nuclear agreement,  it decided to go along with it because the "Chinese diplomacy was not willing to stand alone."
"So, it decided to adjust to the new reality of a new world nuclear order. And attempt to engage strongly with the US and India to create a conducive situation," Dr Dutta said.
Giving the Russian perspective, former foreign secretary and former ambassador to Russia Kanwal Sibal said that Russia was not concerned about the Indo-US deal. It was ready to give US due credit for its efforts to get India into the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which Russia was reluctant to do earlier, said Sibal.
Sibal said that Russia would have a problem only if Indo-US relations start to trouble the country strategically and economically.
Giving the South-East Asian perspective, Professor GVC Naidu of Jawaharlal Nehru University explained how the new Indo-US relations have fetched India a critical role in the new security architecture. It has also resulted in stronger relations between India and Japan, with many countries remaining suspicious of China.

He also spoke of the possibility of increased civil nuclear energy cooperation with Japan, which has stakes in both US and French nuclear energy firms.

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A Rediff correspondent