The proceedings of the United States-India Strategic Dialogue, being held in Washington this week, are being closely followed 7,000 miles away in Beijing, where political analysts and government officials remained divided on both the scope of the talks and their relevance to China.
The official China Daily newspaper said on Thursday the strategic dialogue would “put more pressure on China”.
China has long viewed the Washington-New Delhi relationship with some degree of suspicion, particularly during the years of the Bush administration, when relations between India and the U.S. deepened and with the U.S. widely being seen as supporting India as a counterweight to China. China's opposition to the Indo-U.S. civilian nuclear agreement underscored its unease at the deepening ties between Washington and New Delhi.
China's rhetoric towards India's relations with the U.S. has, however, somewhat cooled following Barack Obama's election and Washington's renewed engagement with Beijing.
“We are happy to see normal state to state relations between India and the United States, and we hope that the two countries' relations could contribute to peace and stability of South Asia,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu, when asked about the dialogue.
During Mr. Obama's visit to Beijing in November, the two countries pledged in a joint statement to work together to promote peace and stability in South Asia, a reference which angered some Indian officials, seen as a sign of the U.S. encouraging China to play a greater role in South Asia.
Privately, Chinese officials and strategic analysts continue to point to Washington's influence in explaining India's strained relations with China. Last year, when tensions over the long-running border dispute heightened, articles in official magazines began to appear describing U.S. plans to “encircle” China, co-opting India in this supposed encirclement.
Reflecting the changed dynamic in ties between China and the U.S., and China's growing confidence regarding its presence in the region, strategic analysts in Beijing this week played down the significance of the dialogue in Washington, in a departure from the more anxious tones routinely struck last year.
Hu Shisheng, a South Asia scholar at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, described the talks as “more ceremonial than effective”.
“The U.S. has already held many such dialogues with China and Pakistan, and now India needs to verify its importance to the U.S. through the same channel,” he told the China Daily. “The U.S. may hope to get from India what it failed to get from China, and through a strengthened cooperation with another Asian giant, pressure China on many issues.”
Zhang Guihong of Shanghai's Fudan University wrote in the ruling Communist Party's official Global Times newspaper that India's influence in its neighbourhood was limited, as a result of foreign policy that prioritised relations with more far-away countries.
“India pays attention to distant relatives such as the U.S. and Russia and expects to raise its own value by becoming a counterweight to China, but it is at odds with neighbours such as Pakistan and Myanmar,” said Mr. Zhang.
“This diplomacy means it can only make a very limited contribution to regional issues.”