October 19, 2011

US NSA to visit China and India, signaling shift from G-2 to G-3

Chidanand Rajghatta, TNN | Oct 20, 2011, 02.22AM IST


President Obama is sending his National Security Advisor Tom Donilon to China and India on a two-nation visit this week.

WASHINGTON: As strategic signaling goes, this one is fairly direct and uncomplicated. President Obama is sending his National Security AdvisorTom Donilon to China and India on a two-nation visit this week, indicating that his administration has moved past the G-2 idea involving only the United States and China to aG-3 formation that includes India.

"Donilon's visit underscores this administration's commitment to growing US leadership in Asia, and our work with emerging powers, such as China and India, as a core component of this commitment," the White House said while announcing the visit. The statement accentuated Washington's resolve to boost its primacy in Asia while treating China and India on a similar footing, formally sidelining a school of thought that sought to bracket US and China in a G-2 tie-up while consigning India to a subsidiary regional role.

The G-2 idea was first introduced by the American economist C. Fred Bergsten in 2005, primarily as an economic relationship because the US and China were the two largest economies and biggest trading partners in the world. But other thinkers like Cold War strategist Zbigniew Brzezinski and the historian Niall Fergusson imparted geo-political heft to it, suggesting US and China could band together to solve the world's problems, including Pakistan's issues with India, ignoring the fact that China itself had problems with India.

Like the Clinton administration, the Obama White House too was smitten with the idea briefly at the start of his presidency, but there has been a course correction over the past several months. While President Clinton acknowledged China's interests in South Asia, the Obama administration has now made it known that it equally recognizes India's stakes in East Asia and had been quietly stiffening New Delhi's resolve to reclaim its influence and role in the region.

In fact, the schedule and agenda for Donilon's travels makes this quite clear. In Beijing, Donilon will meet Chinese leaders and policymakers, including Vice Premier Wang Qishan and State Councilor Dai Bingguo, and "discuss a wide range of bilateral, regional and global issues of mutual concern," according to the White House.

Donilon will then travel to India for meetings with Indian leaders including his Indian counterpart Shiv Shankar Menon to "review recent developments in the US-India strategic partnership, and discuss ways to advance key elements of the relationship, including both countries' participation in the upcoming East Asia Summit," the White House said.

The East Asia summit is scheduled to be held in Bali, Indonesia, in the third week of November. President Obama, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and China's Premier Wen Jiabao are expected to attend, along with leaders from 16 other countries, including Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam, all leery of Beijing's growing clout.

The burying of the G-2 idea and drawing India into the overall Asian security and economic matrix is attributed to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who, in a landmark speech in Chennai earlier this year, made no secret of Washington's expectations that India would play a more assertive role in the region. In a 'Foreign Policy' commentary she wrote this month, Clinton said Washington is setting its sights on "enhancing coordination and engagement among the three giants of the Asia-Pacific: China, India, and the United States."

Conceding that "there are still obstacles to overcome and questions to answer on both sides," Clinton however said "the United States is making a strategic bet on India's future -- that India's greater role on the world stage will enhance peace and security...that India's vibrant, pluralistic democracy will produce measurable results and improvements for its citizens and inspire others to follow a similar path of openness and tolerance." The poke at China was unmistakable.

"So the Obama administration has expanded our bilateral partnership; actively supported India's Look East efforts, including through a new trilateral dialogue with India and Japan; and outlined a new vision for a more economically integrated and politically stable South and Central Asia, with India as a linchpin," she added.

The commentary pointedly did not endorse the G-2 idea or treat China as a US equal, instead referring to it as one of the most prominent emerging partners of Washington.

Over the years, the East Asia forum, first proposed by Malaysia, has become a platform to balance China's influence, and some strategic thinkers have suggested that both China and India, along with US, Russia and Japan, should be part of a "concert of powers" that will play a stabilizing role in Asia

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