Outside view: The US,
ia and China

A partnership with India, by whatever name, could provide America a way to offset the surge in China's geo-political and economic power, writes  RAM NARAYANAN 

Buffalo, NY, Feb. 9 (UPI) -- The National Intelligence Council (NIC), the think-tank of the Director of Central Intelligence, recently came out with a study titled "Mapping the Global Future." Among other things, the report forecasts the rise of India and China as potential global powers by the year 2020. Of the two countries, only China, whose GDP is predicted in the NIC document to overtake America's by the year 2042, is clearly the aggressive competitor of the United States. 

When compared with America, most demographic indicators favor China -- population size, age-structure, the sheer size of workforce, and the numbers of trained scientists and technologists produced every year.

How can the United States compensate for its looming demographic disadvantages? By partnering with the one country that has all the advantages that China enjoys and tops these with a democratic polity and a non-threatening foreign policy vis-à-vis the United States: India.

India's demographics compare well with China, with a labor force of 600 million people and a good base of top-notch scientific, technological and managerial manpower that has the added advantage of being able to "think" in English. This workforce is set to overtake China's by 2025, and decisively so by 2050. India already is the second-highest source of legal immigration into the United States after Mexico, and this trend is likely to continue for the near to medium term.

A partnership with India, by whatever name, could provide America a way to offset the surge in China's geo-political and economic power. But one should not think of it as an alliance preparing for a future military war against China: it should, instead, be envisaged as a U.S.-India partnership to face the coming economic and technological competition with China.

The economic dimension of the China-U.S and India-China bilateral relationships militates against any potential for war between the competitors. The volume of U.S.-China trade, and of U.S. investments is enormous - and growing more so with each passing year. Simultaneously, the magnitude of Chinese support in financing U.S. deficits completely rules out any inimical posture on the part of the United States. Likewise,

India-China trade is on an upward trajectory, and poised to grow further. In other words, it is in the economic self-interest of both these countries to refrain from inimical moves against China.
Therefore, instead of being military-centric, a U.S.-India partnership should seek to advance a stable, democratic and prosperous world, which is in everyone's interest.

A joint venture against terrorism and cooperation in reducing the threats from weapons of mass destruction is a partnership that would enable both the United States and India to move forward in calibrated fashion, leveraging complementary resource endowments and carrying them to their logical ends. This strategy would, over a period, help maintain a balance of power in the world. It would add substantially to the economic and technological prowess of both the United States and India -- something they will not achieve if they do not work together. And both countries can, while working together, maintain strong economic ties with China.

Will India and the United States actually move toward such a partnership, given that it needs strong commitment and vision? The answer is yes, but the United States will have to take the lead in firming this relationship. And the next four years of the Bush administration will be crucial if America wants to seriously embark on this journey.

First, both sides, but especially the United States, must acquire "a deeply rooted appreciation of common strategic interests" and understand that such interests include not just security and defense but a host of other concerns. Both nations will need to manage, imaginatively and effectively, their differences in regard to Pakistan, which, in terms of the larger picture presented here, should be nothing more than a minor irritant.
Second, both India and the United States must make a determined bid to get rid of the remaining cobwebs of the Cold War era. The recent growth in
military-to-military contacts and joint exercises has provided both sides enough opportunities to assess each other's capabilities and
doctrines. The post-tsunami U.S.-India naval cooperation, designed to mount one of the biggest relief efforts in history, was unprecedented.
These contacts should allow either side to go beyond "entrenched mindsets" in their respective establishments.

Third, the United States will have to seek ways to balance its nonproliferation commitments with the need to explore full-fledged hi-tech cooperation with India. As renowned non-proliferation expert George Perkovich noted recently, while China, being a member of most multilateral non-proliferation regimes, has tended to exhibit a less than reliable behavior with respect to proliferation, India has behaved responsibly with sensitive technologies while remaining outside many international agreements.
It is ironic, therefore, that U.S. technology cooperation with China is in many ways broader and deeper as compared to India. American policymakers should therefore consider the idea that the cause of nonproliferation is best served by co-opting India rather than by marginalizing it. They should identify ways of making limited exceptions while pursuing cooperation with India.

In addition, a massive flow of American investment is required, especially into India's infrastructure. For this, India must prepare the ground. U.S. companies will go where they find the greatest and easiest opportunities to make money. India provides opportunities for enhancement of U.S. competitiveness through outsourcing and expansion of market. It is in the vital interest of the United States to have India's market expand, and for India to become an alternative to China as a manufacturing hub.

Overriding all this, however, is an absolutely essential precondition - the establishment of a climate of growing trust between the policymakers of the United States and India at all levels - not just the top political leadership, but also at all levels of the bureaucracy. It has to be a trust that can survive the minor irritants that will crop up in the bilateral relations, such as a seeming U.S. alliance with Pakistan or an apparent Indian closeness with Russia or Iran.

As the 21st century advances, China will mount a serious challenge to the current U.S. position as the world's economic and military superpower, and as the leader in technology. If the United States does not wish to end up playing second fiddle in this global orchestra, it needs not just pro-active policies but also partners that have complementary resources. Partnering with India is one of the best and inevitable options.

Ram Narayanan Outside View Commentator Washington Post

Published in What is India on 16 Feb '05