In a calibrated assertion against China’s increasing military assertiveness, India will strengthen its cooperation with countries in the extended neighbourhood, especially in the ASEAN (Association for Southeast Asian Nations) region, without escalating tensions, said highly placed government sources.
India is getting closer to countries such as Japan, South Korea and Vietnam, which have tense relations with China. However, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said India aims that "the engagement quotient in the ties (with China) should go up and the confrontation quotient should come down."
In Washington, India’s ambassador to the United States, Meera Shankar was far more direct. "We are somewhat concerned over — and it’s not directed towards India — increasing Chinese assertiveness in terms of Chinese behaviour vis-à-vis many issues on which it may have difference with its neighbouring countries,” she said.
Answering questions after her talk on Indo-US relations at the George Washington University, Shankar also added that there were concerns about ‘capacities’ the Chinese were building. “There are concerns about transparency, intentions and the purposes for which these capacities are being built,” she said.
India is keenly watching the unraveling power play in China, in which the army is becoming more assertive.
"Much depends on the internal calculus in China. The role of People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the Chinese army is becoming more muscular, more assertive,” a senior government source said.
As a counter, India is seeking to strengthen the cooperation with its neighbours—both extended as well as immediate (for instance, Indonesia, a key ASEAN member) — with huge resources and strong cultural synergies. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhyono will be the chief guest at next year’s Republic Day parade in Delhi. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be going to Malaysia this month and later to Vietnam for the East Asia summit and Japan for a bilateral summit.
India on Wednesday announced a slew of measures to expand its defence ties with Vietnam, including joint training of armies and support to strengthen and upgrade the capabilities of the Vietnamese armed forces. Defence Minister AK Antony, who is in Hanoi, met Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and his Vietnamese counterpart General Phung Quang Thanh.
China is actively engaged in Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan and Myanmar, fostering economic ties and pumping investments, to India’s discomfort.
China’s recent actions on Kashmir have caused heartburn in Delhi. Though China has officially maintained that Kashmir should be resolved through a dialogue between India and Pakistan, its recent moves have virtually endorsed Pakistan’s claim on Kashmir.
The issue of stapled visa to the residents of Jammu & Kashmir as well as Beijing aiding projects in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir are reflective of such a “mutated stance”, these sources said.
These issues have resulted in India putting on hold all defence exchanges barring the border personnel meeting. The immediate provocation for that was Northern Army commander Let Gen B S Jaswal, whose jurisdiction includes Kashmir, not getting a visa to travel to China.
India is also hopeful of Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehood Qureshi arriving in New Delhi for talks, on the invitation of SM Krishna to pick up the threads for talks from where they left off when both ministers met in Islamabad last July. Highly placed sources said that Qureshi citing human rights violation should be seen as attempts aimed
at getting leverage from the recent incidents of violence in Kashmir.