In the third session of Carnegie Europe’s "New Vision Conference: Post-Bush America and the World," Peter David, foreign editor of the Economist, and Ashley Tellis and Douglas H. Paal of the Carnegie Endowment discussed what China and India expect from the next U.S. President.
Ashley Tellis began by stating that India was probably the only country in the world who was expecting “more of the same.” In India, George W. Bush has had quite a high approval rating consistently throughout his presidency. The U.S. has worked on building a closer relationship with India through discussions of bringing the country into the G8 and the UN Security Council.
Douglas H. Paal responded by saying that China has also been, in general, content with the Bush administration. Although the first year of the Bush administration was defined by deep suspicion over the spy plane incident, Bush has been serious about maintaining a stable relationship with China ever since. During the Beijing Olympics, for example, Bush was present for the entirety of the first week.
With regards to McCain or Obama, it seems that China is quite ready to accept either candidate, and expects a smooth transition. The usual tension over trade has been abated by the U.S. financial crisis; the U.S. is now much more interested in encouraging Chinese investment than it was previously.
U.S. Asia Policy
Regarding the U.S.-India civil nuclear deal, Peter David asked whether or not this was a U.S. attempt to cement an alliance with India? How will it be perceived in China?
George W. Bush has taken an active and personal interest in making certain that U.S. policies toward India and China are in equillibrium, replied Tellis. It is best described as a parallel track. The U.S. has built the best relationships possible with both countries and encouraged Beijing and Delhi to build a cooperative relationship with each other. The Bush administration has been successful on all fronts, and it is very likely that the next U.S. president will follow a similar, if not the same, policies.
Paal agreed whole-heartedly, and went further to say that strengthening ties is not limited to Beijing and Delhi. After the Cold War, U.S. policy in the region wavered between engagement and containment out of concerns over Taiwan. Now other South East Asian countries have been strengthening ties with the U.S., largely out of concern over China’s growing influence.
Peter David observed that Asia is full of potential flashpoints and asked both Paal and Tellis what they thought could go wrong during the next administration that would threaten U.S. relationships with India and China.
Tellis said, without hesitation, that the most troublesome possibility was that of the nation-building project in Afghanistan failing. India does not want a failing Afghanistan with nuclear weapons on its border.
Another potential problem would be deteriorating relations between the U.S. and China. India wants a stable bilateral relationship between the U.S. and China, otherwise it may be forced to choose sides. Issues related to Iran could also be significant – India has a subtle position on Iran. So long as the U.S. does not feel compelled to eschew diplomacy the U.S.-India relationship will not be compromised.
For Paal, the concern that was most pressing was Pakistan. There has been very little in the way of global coordination of programs and interests for a stable Pakistan. North Korea is another potential issue.
With regards to North Korea, we are already trying to avert a crisis. Mutual reassurance is necessary for North Korea given concerns of a power struggle in light of the failing health of Kim Jung Il.
Taiwan is yet another issue in which tensions having increased recently. Despite that, the new leadership in Taiwan is more realistic in its approach to China, and the next 4-8 years could be quite stable there, especially if China is responsive to positive change.
Energy Resource Competition
Peter David commented that both India and China have an increasing dependency on energy, before asking whether or not there would be unmanageable competition for energy resources.
Tellis responded by saying that the issue of energy dependency, and the availability of raw materials, will become critical to Indian foreign policy. There will be an element of competition here, but we must determine what form that competition will take before judging it good or bad. If it is economic competition, it will be a positive development. But if it leads to political competition, there could be trouble. At present, both China and India are happy with the international order and would probably prefer to see this order unchanged. India, like China, is beginning to look to Africa and South America for resources.
Responding from the Chinese perspective, Paal said that China is going through a learning process regarding energy demand and security. In the past, China was more conservative, looking at Kazakhstan to secure future pipelines. Now, because of difficulties with pipelines in places like Nigeria where unstable local regimes cause problems, the Chinese are increasingly receptive to bilateral discussion with the U.S. The U.S. gives China advice on strategy based on its own experiences from the 1960s and 70s. Energy policy creates an opportunity for the U.S. to engage with China on a strategic level.
Moving the topic along to emissions controls, Peter David asked the panel about the probability of the next U.S. president being able to negotiate an emissions agreement with India and China.
Tellis replied by saying that with regards to India, the chance of an emissions agreement is close to zero. The U.S. must take a lead in developing a new strategy powered by new innovations to address climate change.
Both Obama and McCain have acknowledged the climate change problem, said Paal, and the need for multilateralism in addressing it. Because China is not a democracy, it is an easier partner with whom to negotiate with. In addition, the China’s pollution crisis is so severe that it requires urgent policy response, and leaders recognize the problem is a priority.
Europe, India, and China
Shada Islam from the Europea Policy Centre brought a European perspective by asking what Europe lacks when it assesses India and why it cannot seem to consider India as a rising power.
In response to Islam, Tellis replied that the U.S. sees India as playing a role in the preservation of the political order, whereas the EU does not. The U.S. will continue to invest more and more in its relationship with India, whereas the EU-India relationship is primarily economic.
Katinka Barysch, of the Centre for European Reform, observed that the EU-India relationship is predominantly a commercial one because the political relationship is so weak. The EU-China trade deficit could become bigger than Europe’s deficit with the U.S. Trade pressure now is about climate change – carbon tariffs etc. – Europe will not take kindly to U.S. and China hiding behind each other while Europe tries to battle climate change.
Paal responded that China is picking the EU apart, and that the absence of the Lisbon Treaty allows China to continue along this path. Regarding the U.S. attitude to climate change, there is no sense that the U.S. wants to leave the issue to the EU to deal with on its own.
Regarding the arms embargo against China, Paal expressed his most sincere hope that human rights concerns will be taken into account and that Europe will take into consideration that recent Chinese missiles launches have been of serious concern in the region.
Fraser Cameron of the EU-Russia Center, asked why India is so reluctant to partake in the Geneva agenda on human rights. Tellis responded that the Indian position here is closer to that of the Chinese than to the Americans. The post colonial legacy of India will take quite some time to change, and is exacerbated by the democratic process. Furthermore, there is a fear that indulging human rights issues could challenge sovereignty. Recently, there has been a movement in India to ascertain what India will stand for in the future. A global regime where the rights of people are respected is seen as being in its own national interest. In the future, as India grows richer and more capable, it will begin to address these issues.
Andrew Small, from the German Marshall Fund, asked what the impact of the financial crisis on China might be and how resilient is the political system in China to a global economic downturn.
Paal argued that the Chinese are in a fairly strong position because they have substantial cash reserves. They are also trying to promote domestic consumption, and they have the capacity to grow internally. China is also now in the position to be the ‘bank of last resort,’ where states that led resistance against China in the past are now desperately begging China for economic help. It needs to be remembered that there may well be political resistance within China to lending this money to those who once considered the country an enemy.