Will China overshadow the India-EU summit

Written by Malcolm Subhan | Updated: Sep 3 2005, 07:47am hrs
Will China galvanise Prime Minister Manmohan Singhs meeting with the President of the European Union (EU) on September 7, in New Delhi Although the event is officially described as the sixth India-EU summit, it is likely to be a humdrum affair, even though the Prime Minister will be welcoming Tony Blair, as the holder of EUs rotating presidency until the end of this year. But Tony Blair could just invigorate the summit agenda by adding China to it.

The fact is that he will be arriving in New Delhi straight from his summit meeting with the Chinese leadership, and sufficiently excited, perhaps, to tear down the wall EU officials insist on maintaining between India and China. The two Prime Ministers will endorse the action plan for building the strategic partnership between India and the EU that was launched a year ago. The plan does refer to the global challenges facing India and the EU, but they are viewed in the multilateral framework of the UN.

And yet, one of the most promising, but also potentially destabilising, relationships facing India and the EU is the triangular India-EU-China relationship. You have only to glance at the headlines in the European media to see how sharply the EU business community is divided right now over such a simple, everyday item as trousers from China.

The sixth India-EU summit offers the two Prime Ministers an exceptional opportunity to discuss between themselves how best to take advantage of the tremendous economic, but also political, opportunities offered by an effective India-EU-China relationship. Tony Blair could certainly take the lead here, taking advantage of the fact that the EU is developing a strategic partnership with both India and China. But both India and the EU also maintain close and cordial relations with the worlds remaining superpower, the US.

Manmohan Singhs meeting with President George W Bush in Washington in July marked a dramatic stage in India-US relations. It coincided with the completion of the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership (NSSP) initiative, which was launched in January 2004. The India-US Joint Statement refers to their joint resolve to transform the relationship between their countries and establish a global partnership (and) provide global leadership.

At first sight, therefore, the two PMs could develop a strategy aimed at creating a fresh trilateral relationship India-EU-US which, if successful, could in time transform India from a EurAsian to a truly global power. Except that going down this particular road will face India with some very hard choices, not least that of having to choose between the US and China.

India has had a close and cordial relationship with the EU which goes back to 1962, when New Delhi posted its first ambassador to the six-nation European Economic Community (EEC) that is now the 25-nation EU. Indias relations with the US, in contrast, have been marked by suspicion, hostility and mutual distrust over much of the last 50 years. The Bush administrations current enthusiasm for India reflects its deep distrust, perhaps even fear, of China as much as anything else.

Putting to one side the rhetoric which characterises Indias relations with both the EU and the US (constant references to commitment to democracy and shared values, for example), there are some important differences between the two relationships.

Take Indias relations with the EU and the US as regards high-tech industries and space. There is plenty of scope for India to cooperate with both. But while the EU welcomes greater cooperation with India in the key sector of biotechnology, and there is agreement to set up an India-EU working group on pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, the US is silent on this subject.

Given Indias urgent need for secure energy supplies, President Bushs offer to work towards full civil nuclear energy cooperation with India has attracted a good deal of attention. But the cooperation is dependent on the Indian government taking a number of steps (such as allowing the IAEA to monitor and inspect Indian nuclear facilities) and, more importantly, on the US Congress agreeing to modify certain laws.

Clearly, a triangular relationship between India, the US and the EU would bring substantial economic and political benefits to India. But it would also jeopardise Indias emerging relationship with China, and the possibility of a triangular relationship involving the EU also. Surely, this is the relationship to which India should give priority.

Therefore, let Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Tony Blair use at least some of the very limited time at their disposal to see how their respective bilateral relations with China can be made the basis for a trilateral relationship.