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Hu's India visit no big deal in US

A state department official did not comment on the outcome of the first visit by a Chinese president to India in 10 years.

india Updated: Nov 23, 2006 12:44 IST

Chinese President Hu Jintao's "historic" India visit that opened new vistas of cooperation, including possibly in the field of civilian nuclear energy, between the two Asian giants, did not get much notice initially, at least in official Washington.

A state department official would not comment on the outcome of the first visit by a Chinese president to India in 10 years.

"These are two free states and there is nothing unusual about countries having bilateral relations," he said.

A former US ambassador to India, Robert D Blackwill, too declined comment with his office saying his "very busy schedule does not leave any room for him to assist you with the information requested."

Despite the caution, there is no indication that Washington is unduly concerned about New Delhi warming up to Beijing upsetting what some think tanks here look at as the sole superpower's strategy to shore up India as a bulwark against China.

Like New Delhi, Washington is apparently more concerned that Hu might offer Pakistan where he is headed directly after his visit to India, the kind of nuclear deal President George W Bush denied it on the ground that the two South Asian neighbours had "different needs and different histories".

In fact, before Bush left for Hanoi to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, a state department spokesman indicated that he might well raise the question of some Chinese entities proliferating nuclear material to Pakistan with Hu there.

But the India-China agreement to promote cooperation in the field of civilian nuclear energy should be good news in Washington too as its own landmark accord with New Delhi for the sale of nuclear fuel and technology requires a nod from the Nuclear Suppliers Group that includes China.

There is also a growing realisation in Washington "that in Asia, economics is where the game is - with China, and of course with India and others," as James Lilley, who served as American ambassador to China and South Korea and is close to Bush's father, put it in a newspaper comment on his recent visit to East Asia.

Clyde V Prestowitz, president of the Economic Strategy Institute in Washington, also did not expect a real partnership to come out of the Hu visit to India, but perhaps "less hostility, suspicion and confrontation."

"India, China and the rest of Asia will eventually wrest dominance of world trade away from the West, though not tomorrow," said Prestowitz, a trade adviser to the Reagan administration in another media comment.

Meanwhile, in an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, author Pankaj Mishra said, "Upholding business interests above all in its foreign policy, as in its domestic policy, China at least appears to be internally consistent.

"The gap between image and reality is greater in the case of India, which claims to be the world's largest democracy, with an educated middle class and a free news media."

"Pundits in India deplore, often gleefully, American excesses in Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, and the inadequacies of the American news media in the run-up to the war in Iraq.

"But the Indian news media has yet to carry a single detailed report on the torture and extrajudicial killing of hundreds of civilians in Kashmir over the last decade," he said.

"However tainted in practice, the idea of virtue cannot be discarded in policymaking. By treating it with contempt, the ruling elites of India and China may soon make the world nostalgic for the days when America claimed, deeply hypocritically, its moral leadership," Mishra said.

In a more positive comment on China in general, columnist Thomas L Friedman suggested in the Times, "Let America and China make a Great Green Leap Forward together - and change the world."

In an earlier piece, he had suggested how US manages economic opportunities and challenges posed by China's rising power will shape US politics through 2008.

The big question is whether Bush and Democratic Congress will use China as a sputnik or a scapegoat, he asked.