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Barack Obama's Gambit: US successfully enticed India to join South China Sea politics
The recent visit of the US President Barack Obama to India has been successful in the manner that Obama easily enticed India to become a part of the ongoing politics in the South China Sea where New Delhi has no strategic stakes except right to free navigation.

The joint statement issue after the culmination of delegation-level talks between the two countries is evident of the fact that India has fallen in the US trap to forge a trilateral strategic alliance consisting of the US, Japan and India to counter China's growing influence in the East Asian region. It is clear Indian government failed to understand Barack Obama's Gambit, and the US successfully enticed India to join South China Sea politics.

Instead of treading cautiously unlike previous United Progressive Alliance government the current government decided to meddle into the controversies surrounding the South China Sea without realizing the implications that it could disturb India's relations with China particularly ahead of Prime Minister Modi's proposed visit to China in April.

Of late, the US and Japan have been trying to push India into South China Sea affairs as after China and Japan, India is the third largest power and a fastest growing economy to reckon with. India's involvement in the affairs of South China Sea will help both the US and Japan because Tokyo, which is already engaged in a territorial dispute over Senkaku islands with China will now have the support of India that dominates the Indian Ocean regime and the US will have larger foothold in the Indian Ocean and Pacific region, which it has been trying for a long time.

The previous Manmohan Singh government did try to involve itself into the affairs of South China Sea when its state-run largest oil giant ONGC-Videsh attempted to search for oil and natural gas in the region with the help of Vietnam and abandoned after China strongly protested and that resulted in China with the help of Sri Lanka advancing towards Indian Ocean region deploying its warships.

The current government seems is of the view that a trilateral engagement with the US and Japan and a friendly government at the helm of affairs in Colombo could help prevent China from trying to make foothold in the Indian Ocean region.

The visit of the External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj to China just four days after the departure of the US President seems a quick realization on the part of the Indian foreign establishment about the possible implications in Sino-India relations and the government swung into a damage control exercise and dispatched Swaraj to pacify the Chinese leadership so as to make the visit of Indian Prime Minister Modi to China in April a smooth affair.

Generally, Foreign Minister visits a foreign country a few days ahead of the Prime Minister to final the formalities that would be part of the structured dialogue between the leaders of the two countries.

China has taken strong exception of the US President Barack Obama advice to Japan to send air petrol over the South China Sea in the garb of ensuring free navigation of commercial ships during his visit to India. India's agreement to the US demand of involvement in the South China Sea could also have an adverse impact on India's security scenario on its Western borders with Pakistan, the new shift in India's policy vis-a-vis China has the potential of bring Beijing more closer to Islamabad.

The US-India joint statement issued after the bilateral meeting says the two sides will explore the opportunities of holding trilateral talks with Japan at the foreign minister-level to strengthen ties along with the other countries in the Pacific region. Obviously, it is aimed at creating a conglomeration to sideline Chinese influence in the Indian Ocean and Pacific region, a move that was also initiated during the previous United Progressive Alliance government.

The previous Manmohan Singh government also showed its interest to become part of it after it lost bid to acquire energy blocks in Myanmar to China and gave up construction of gas pipeline passing through Myanmar, Bangladesh to India. The current government not only accepted the proposition but also decided to move forward.

The US President during his three-day visit also lured India to help securing membership of the elite Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation grouping to build up an Indian dominance in the Indian Ocean region. The dust over the India-US Civil Nuclear Energy Agreement seems to have cleared even as doubts over the nuclear liability issue in case of an eventuality still remained unclear as the two sides shifted their focus to the Asia-Pacific region with the US trying to impress India to be an active player in the region politics.

The Look East Asia Policy that has been rechristened as Act East Policy by Modi government assures the US and its allies in the East Asia and Pacific regions to serving their interests.

The US President Obama during his visit on the Republic Day celebrations also assured to help securing membership of 48-member elite Nuclear Suppliers Group on the condition that it would have to tow American strategy in the Indian Ocean and Pacific region. India is yet to officially react to this offer. However, China immediately reacted on it though cautiously.

"We support the group carrying out discussions on admitting new members and at the same time encourage India to take next steps to satisfy the relevant standards of the group," said the spokesperson of Chinese foreign office as reported in the media.

The Chinese reaction indicates that it would not allow a smooth entry of India into the NSG as the world's nuclear watchdog mandates all its member countries to sign Non-Proliferation Treaty and India has refused to do so after conducting two nuclear tests. The present Indian government's eagerness to establish and forge closer relations with the US overlooking others, particularly the countries in the Asian continent could complicate its effort to seek an easy entry into the NSG.

Undoubtedly, the US' support is very crucial and important to get an entry into the elite nuke grouping, but it should not be at the cost of disturbing the balance in the region where India is still struggling to normalize relations with its neighbours particularly China, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

The joint statement mentioned about an India-US roadmap to face the challenges in the Indian Ocean and Pacific region. It has however, failed to elaborate the contours of the roadmap, instead centered on strengthening trilateral relations. In true sense the statement implies that the two sides would work to form a new platform that could help change the strategic and geo-politics in the region in favour of the US and its allies, thus bringing India closer and closer to coalition led by US led North Atlantic Treaty Organization. This move if materializes could damage India's reputation as a country that has friends all over the globe and is not aligned with any of the military world groupings.

Even after the US President made a series of promises to India ranging for foreign direct investment, civil nuclear deal, cooperation in energy and sectors relating to social and skill development, it is for India to decide whether or not to keep the US at arm's length and not to act in haste even before the promises are delivered.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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