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  Asia-Pacific
Trilateral Stratagem To Slow China's Growth
By Gautaman Bhaskaran
South Asia Editor

Mr. Alexander Downer, the foreign minister of Australia

It was always suspected, but never confirmed. But the new Trilateral Strategic Dialogue among three countries – the U.S., Australia and Japan – which took place in Sydney on March 18, is clearly an alliance that is meant to check China's march and help India's development.

Of course, New Delhi is willing to play pawn in a game that aims at bringing Tokyo and Canberra closer to Washington in what we may presume can become an Asia-Pacific axis, whose aim can well be to prevent China's rise.

A joint statement from America, Australia and Japan reads: "As longstanding democracies and developed economies, our three countries have a common cause in working to maintain stability and security globally with a particular focus on the Asia-Pacific region. This meeting was a significant step in intensifying the strategic dialogue between our countries and reflects the importance we attach to greater trilateral cooperation in addressing contemporary security issues. This cooperation will complement the strong security relationships that each of our three countries has established."

Of particular interest is another paragraph from the statement: "We welcomed China's constructive engagement in the region and concurred on the value of enhanced cooperation with other parties such as ASEAN and the Republic of Korea. We recognized the importance of reinforcing our global partnership with India and noted that India's decision to place its civilian nuclear facilities and programs under international safeguards would be a positive
step toward expansion of the reach of the international non-proliferation regime."

It is apparent here that China's ascendancy in the international arena is now being viewed with reservation, if not suspicion, by America and Japan, and, possibly, Australia. India as the world's most populous democracy and with a rapidly expanding market, fuelled by an exploding middle class whose spending power is on the upswing, seems a likely candidate to check China's designs, which, simply stated, is to become to most powerful force in Asia.

The fight is now clearly between New Delhi and Beijing with each trying to capture the global market for goods and services, and thereby political
dominance.

But India must be chuckling at the fact that the world's most powerful nation is now covertly trying to checkmate China by wooing India.

The recent Indo-American nuclear deal belied all predictions. The visiting U.S President, George Bush, and the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, finally hammered out an agreement in New Delhi that will separate India's military and civil nuclear facilities, placing the latter under perpetual
scrutiny and supervision by international agencies. As a quid pro quo, India has been assured of a continuous supply of fuel for its nuclear reactors.

The accord aims at removing the decades old ban imposed by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty on the sale of fuel and civilian nuclear technology to India in return for New Delhi's agreement to put its civilian reactors under international inspection.

India is not a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

India has 15 nuclear reactors and seven under construction. Out of this 22, 14 have been termed civilian and will be brought under international control in a phased manner before 2014. The remaining eight reactors will be used for military purposes, and kept outside international gaze.

What is even more significant is that India can build, in future, fast-breeder nuclear reactors – to produce fuel for weapons – and keep them away from international inspection

Soundly criticized by analysts, who have been urging Bush to do a rethink on the pact, the agreement is seen as unquestioned support for India's development as a great Asian power. And, in the process, a move to clip China's wings.

There are clear indications to this. Despite Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer's claim that "it is not for China to feel that we are ganging up on China," there are reasons to dispute the stated objectives of the Sydney forum.

Japan and Australia now see themselves as partners of the U.S. in building a strategic architecture in the Asia-Pacific region. In other words, they now emphasise the importance of addressing together the security concerns of this area.

Washington, of course, sees China "through the prism of contemporary security issues." For a long time, the U.S. has openly voiced its concern over China's growing economic and military power.

President Bush has carefully chosen his team of players to curtail China's authority. For Canberra, China provides an attractive economic opportunity, and it is here that the Dialogue by drawing Australia in has sent a message that it must also bear in mind Washington's strategic interests.

As for Japan, Tokyo's strained ties with Beijing suits Washington perfectly well. The coded mention of China in the recently updated U.S.-Japan security consensus has been incorporated in the Sydney Dialogue, albeit with great
subtlety.

It is in this game of power politics that America has chosen to cultivate India. The recent visits to India of Bush and Australian Prime Minister John Howard, and their initiation with New Delhi over several global issues is an unmistakable indication of India's significance in the Strategic Dialogue.

Interestingly, Australia and Japan, two hawks on nuclear non-proliferation, have now willingly teamed with the U.S. to find a way to accept India as a responsible nuclear nation.

However, it is imperative for New Delhi to be extremely cautious in not getting itself trapped in the new scheme of things, given India's improving relations with China.



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Gautaman Bhaskaran is a veteran film critic and writer who has covered Cannes and other major international festivals, like Venice, Berlin, Montreal, Melbourne, and Fukuoka over the past two decades. He has been to Cannes alone for 15 years. He has worked in two of India’s leading English newspapers, The Hindu and The Statesman, and is now completing an authorized biography of India’s auteur-director, Adoor Gopalakrishnan. Penguin International will publish the book, whose research was funded by Ford Foundation.

 

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