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India's "Look East Policy" means "Look to encircle China" ?

16:30, October 27, 2010

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By Li Hongmei

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's three-nation visit to Japan, Malaysia and Vietnam has been a media hype at home, being even describe as a missionary trip to seek new strategic allies to deal with China, and to showcase India's resolve to persist on its "Look East Policy" on its way to pursue the geopolitical and economic goals and achieve a "Big Power" status in the region, if not the leading power.

Some of the Indian media even add more color to Singh's Japan visit, besides the nuke deal and trade agreements, desperately crying it is high time for India that it strengthened the embankment of Tokyo to prevent "China's expansion."

As for Japan, whose relations with China have frosted over amid the diplomatic détente over the East China Sea, India, with a large consumer base, exudes a magnetic appeal to the presently sluggish economic power. Moreover, India's rare earth, although much less than China's deposits, is enough at the moment to present a peculiar fascination to Japan, who has all these days complaining about Chin's restriction on the rare earth exports and is anxious to get rid of the passive status quo caused by the undue reliance on China's supplies.

On top of that, India is viewed by Japan as an ideal partner to establish the strategic cooperation in security, based on the assumption that both of them are being threatened by China's military assertiveness in East China Sea as well as in the India Ocean. On this basis, Japan and India have both placed high expectations upon each other in combining strengths to counterbalance China.

But, what is noteworthy is that in Japan too, there are also sections that are wary of Tokyo aligning too closely with India. Robyn Lim, professor of international politics at Nanzan University in Nagoya, for instance, has been arguing that "the risks of alignment with India outweigh the advantages".

Some Japanese military observers somewhat echoed the opinion that it would be quite risky for Japan if it steps unusually close to India. A newly set alliance among Japan, India and Vietnam "might seem a logical response to China's ambitions in the South China Sea," as they opined.

The logic goes like this----India cannot protect Vietnam against China but its presence in Vietnam (if Hanoi were to give Delhi access to a naval base) would raise tensions with China and Japan would get drawn into the conflict. "Why would Japan wish to allow India to drag it into Vietnam's mostly self-inflicted problems with Beijing?" they argued.

Back to India, although its hawks are so intoxicated at the idea that India finally regains the momentum to counteract China's rising regional clout, with the " Look East Policy" as its guiding principle, encouraged by its leaders' sound relationship with ASEAN nations, and by taking advantage of the face-off between China and Japan, India still cannot relax its spasm of worries about China, nor can it brush aside the fear that China might nip its ambitions in the bud.

History is a great teacher. India's "Look East policy" was born out of failure---- the failure of India's Cold War strategy of "playing both ends against the middle", today, India is harping on the same string, but should wisely skip the out-of-tune piece. No matter what a strong temptation it is at the idea of benefiting from China and Japan playing off each other or killing the rival by another's hand.

The savvy Indian leadership will never rashly board the ship of Japan without giving a glance at China's expression. After all, it is not Japan, but China that acts as India's largest trade partner with the overall volume in 2010 to exceed US$ 60 billion.

By People's Daily Online

The articles in this column represent the author's views only. They do not represent opinions of People's Daily or People's Daily Online.

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About this column

Li Hongmei, editor and columnist of PD Online.


Li HongLi Hong

After 19 years working for China Daily and its website, Li Hong moved to english.people.com.cn in March 2009.

Li has been a reporter and column writer, mainly on China's economy and politics.

He was graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University, and once studied in University of Hawaii and the Poynter Institute in Florida.

Dai MinJohn
Dai Min

John Milligan-Whyte and Dai Min, the executive producers and co-hosts of the Collaboration of Civilizations television series adapted by the eight books they wrote in the America-China Partnership Book Series published in English and Mandarin in 2009-2010 that created the "New School of America-China Relations." They founded the America-China Partnership Foundation and Forum in 2008 and the Center for American-China Partnership in 2005, which was recognized in 2009 as "the first American think tank to combine and integrate American and Chinese perspectives providing a complete answer for America and China's success in the 21st century."