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As Obama visits China, India will be watching

world Updated: Nov 13, 2009 02:15 IST
Reshma Patil

The detailed itinerary of the US President Barack Obama’s first-ever visit to China, starting Sunday, is well guarded. But it’s clear that behind the scenes of his global rather than bilateral agenda in Beijing lies relevance for India’s changing ties with the two powers.

Beijing has flashed three major signals ahead of Obama’s four-nation tour of which the longest, four-day, stay will be in China. China hinted that it may allow the undervalued yuan to appreciate against major currencies.

An official think-tank leaked figures suggesting that China should aim to cut carbon intensity by 4 or 5 per cent year-on-year by 2050.

The foreign ministry painted the visit in words of “new era”, but issued a terse statement against “foreign leaders” meeting the Dalai Lama.

On Tibet, Beijing won’t budge. But the outcome of the talks between Obama and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao will impact India’s trade with China and climate change diplomacy. Will Obama’s visit also shape the linkages of Sino-US-India relations?

Beijing’s view of India-US relations is thinly disguised distrust that they aim to contain China.

“The rise of India and India’s increasing involvement in South East Asia is a new factor,’’ said David Shambaugh, director of the China Policy Programme at the George Washington University, in Beijing this week. He emphasised that the US and China are ‘joined at the hip’ and China has a role in every global issue Obama faces, including the strategic interests of a rising India for both sides.

Obama is the first US President to avoid meeting the Dalai Lama ahead of touring China, his country’s biggest foreign creditor.

“India's interests will be best served if Obama’s visit also raises concerns over human rights, freedom of religion and transparency in military spending on the part of China,’’ Taipei-based Raviprasad Narayanan, a China watcher at the National Chengchi University, told HT. “But the global recession has pushed to the background these very issues.”

And ObaMao has already arrived in Beijing, as a fashion icon with his face replacing Mao on olive green T-shirts.

Enter Lincoln in Dalai Lama row

Three days ahead of Barack Obama’s China visit, Beijing cited the US President’s hero, Abraham Lincoln, to warn him off Tibetan affairs.

On Thursday, the foreign ministry indicated it expected Obama, an African-American, to be more sympathetic to its Tibetan stance than any other leader. A ministry spokesman compared China’s opposition to Tibetan independence to the President Lincoln’s campaign to abolish slavery. “The abolishment of the serf system in Tibet is as significant as the end of slavery in the US,’’ said foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang.

Qin categorised the Dalai Lama as the ‘ringleader of a feudal serf system’ that China ended in 1959 when he fled to India after a failed uprising.