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September 21, 2017

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India casting a wary eye on China's role in Pakistan

LONDON -- Washington's focus on Pakistan and economic dependence on China are forcing India to reassess its own place in South Asia, reviving long-standing fears of strategic encirclement by its giant northern neighbor. Analysts say Indian suspicions about China, suppressed during the boom years by burgeoning trade ties, have been stoked by Chinese involvement in Pakistan and a sense that Beijing has replaced India as the favored friend of the U.S. in the region.

"There is a very strong feeling that China is India's threat number one," said Subhash Kapila at the South Asia Analysis Group, an Indian think-tank. Under former President George W. Bush, the United States forged close ties with India — in part seeing it as a counterweight to growing Chinese power — culminating in a deal effectively recognizing its nuclear-armed status.

India and China also made efforts to mend relations soured by a border war in 1962, while their growing clout in the world economy earned them the nickname "Chindia."

But with the financial crisis highlighting U.S. dependence on Beijing to bankroll its debt, India is fretting that while it acquired a friendship, China bought the U.S. economy.

"During the Bush era, U.S. policy was seeking to build India as a counterweight to China," Brahma Chellaney, from India's Centre for Policy Research, said at a conference in London. "As this was going on the Chinese and U.S. economic ties were getting thicker and thicker," he said. "'Chimerica' is more meaningful than 'Chindia.'"

Long Pakistan's closest ally, China has been steadily building ties with India's other neighbors, supplying weapons to Sri Lanka and improving its relationship with Myanmar and Nepal, all stoking Indian fears of strategic encirclement.

"India has been gradually ceding space in its own backyard, especially to China," said Chellaney.

China has stressed it sees no competition with India, but rather that both can benefit from rising bilateral trade as well as cooperation on issues where the two countries share similar views, including on Doha trade talks and climate change.

"Neither of the two poses a threat to the other," Ma Jiali, from China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, told the conference in London.

Until very recently, India shared that view and set aside distrust which lingered on from its defeat by China in the 1962 war. At the same time the government also played down alleged incursions along the disputed border to avoid spoiling the mood.

"There was this euphoria that trade is booming," said Professor Dibyesh Anand at London's University of Westminster.

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