China's relations with its ascending Asian rival, India, are steadily improving--to the apparent dismay of the United States, which had high hopes of using India to help balance, or contain, China's regional rise.
One sign of the times: China's refusal to support a bid by India's traditional adversary, Pakistan, for full membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), an increasingly effective tool of Chinese diplomacy, which held its fifth annual summit meeting on Thursday. Pakistan attended as an observer. India, Iran, and Mongolia also attended as observers; and oil producing Iran, which is also rich in large, untapped natural gas deposits, is also seeking full membership status.
China and Russia are the main players in the SCO, which includes Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Krygystan and Kazakhistan. Initially regarded as a joke by Washington, the once obscure group is emerging as an effective counterweight to US power and influence in Central Asia, though Moscow and Beijing bristle at the suggestion that this is the group's purpose.
Another indication of strengthening ties between Beijing and New Delhi: Chinese silence on Pakistan's repeated requests for Chinese help in building up the country's civilian nuclear power infrastructure.
And still another sign of warming relations: China allowed an Indian Air Force aircraft across its territory for the first time in over 40 years. The plane carrying Indian Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Murli Deora to the SCO summit was allowed to fly into and out of China.
China-Indian relations have entered a "new phase," Chinese President Hu Jintao said in Shanghai on Friday. The official Xinhua News Agency said Hu described the emerging relationship between former adversaries as a "strategic cooperative partnership."
Xinhua noted that China has proclaimed 2006 a "Year of Friendship between China and India." The two countries will stage a series of activities to enhance "bilateral friendship and reciprocal cooperation," Hu said, according to Xinhua. The agency also quoted the Chinese president as saying: "I believe, with the joint efforts of our two sides, the relations between China and India will keep upgrading."
India would like China's cooperation in containing their mutual neighbor, Nepal, which ironically could come under Maoist control. The Hindu nation is in the grip of a dramatic political transformation that has seen its unpopular, corrupt monarch stripped of all power following massive pro-democracy demonstrations sponsored by a broad coalition of parties.
Nepal's powerful Maoist revolutionaries have ended their insurgency pursuant to a power sharing arrangement with the new government. The ultraleft movement, which China long ago abandoned--and in fact opposed with secret arms supplies to the monarchy's security forces, as recently reported by Amnesty International--maintains cross-border ties to Maoist insurgents in India known as Naxalites.
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