Stephen Yates and Christian Whiton: India Blows Past China's Smokescreen - WSJ.com
By STEPHEN YATES
AND CHRISTIAN WHITON
Smart people and smart nations judge governments more on what they do than on what they say. India's successful test of an Agni-V long-range, nuclear-capable missile shows the shrewdness of the world's largest democracy. Delhi has looked past smokescreens from Beijing and Washington to judge hard realities.
In response to India's improved ability to deter China's own nuclear arsenal, a Foreign Ministry spokesman in Beijing said "India and China are not rivals but cooperative partners. We believe the two countries should cherish the hard-won momentum of sound bilateral relations."
But Delhi increasingly knows from Beijing's conduct that this is not so. China cooperates in Kashmir with Pakistan, which uses terrorists as instruments of statecraft against India. Many Indians are knowledgeable about the nature of China's government, having heard about it from some 150,000 Tibetans who have fled oppression to arrive in India, and who no longer have a country of their own.
Elsewhere, Beijing's conduct is hardly more comforting. Earlier this month, a Chinese general said the Philippines was facing its "final chance" to resolve territorial disputes in the South China Sea—presumably on terms favorable to China. Beijing then initiated a standoff with the Philippine Navy, which had tried to evict Chinese fishing boats operating illegally in Manila's exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Last May, Chinese patrol boats damaged a Vietnamese oil survey ship in Hanoi's EEZ. Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have also recently been in the crosshairs of Beijing's diplomats and warriors.
Prudence dictates that Delhi be prepared for similar Chinese treatment of India's interests. Ordinarily, a strong U.S. counterforce in the Pacific and Indian Oceans would allay some Indian concerns about Beijing. That has been a key to relative peace in the postwar era. But India's missile launch is another sign Delhi perceives this could be changing.
Indeed, Delhi can judge President Obama's claim of a strategic "pivot to Asia" to be mendacious. True, Mr. Obama announced the new intermittent stationing of up to 2,500 U.S. Marines in northern Australia as part of the "pivot." They augment U.S. troops in Japan and South Korea. But deterring Chinese aggression and altering Beijing's behavior depend on friendly naval, aviation and nuclear assets—and increasingly on missile defense and cyber capabilities. Both Beijing and Delhi can see the U.S. Navy and Air Force steadily shrinking, and now set to be frog-marched off a cliff through imminent budget cuts and mismanaged procurement.
India and China also know that the dispatch of a tiny contingent of Marines 3,700 miles from Beijing is nearly irrelevant. It is arguably worse than doing nothing. The force and its location are suspiciously configured not to upset Beijing. It reinforces the perception that Washington is unable to confront Beijing seriously or coherently. President Obama's decision last year not to sell Taiwan new F-16s—three levels of quality below America's top fighter jet—confirms Washington's inability to identify and treat accordingly those who are its friends, and those who are not its friends. Both groups have in common the realization that Mr. Obama's "pivot" is more about rhetorical cover for American withdrawal from the Middle East and Central Asia than deterring China.
Delhi presumably sees little help on the horizon. A second Obama term would likely resemble his first. Mr. Obama's all-but-certain opponent in the November presidential election, Mitt Romney, has used tougher language on China and called for a larger U.S. Navy and Air Force. But he declares on his website: "Our objective is not to build an anti-China coalition." He furthermore has reserved most of his ire at Beijing for its trade and currency policies. These are telltale signs of politicians who are willing to shadowbox Beijing when it is useful with voters, but who are unwilling to push back seriously against Beijing's security offenses.
An improved military is not the only tool Indians are using to grapple with China. While remaining open to expanded investment and commerce, Indians have been treating China's officials to a degree of candor seldom heard from senior Obama administration officials. Narendra Modi, the popular center-right chief minister of the prosperous Indian state Gujarat, was blunt on a trade-focused mission he undertook to China last November. Despite India's "look east" economic policy, Mr. Modi nonetheless condemned Chinese military cooperation with Pakistan, claims Beijing makes on Indian territory and Chinese detention of Indians from his state without trial—allegedly for running a ring to smuggle diamonds from Hong Kong.
Indians will increasingly judge Beijing by its actions rather than its words. They hold Washington to the same standard. Delhi has the means and motivation for a stronger diplomatic and military posture to deal with China. Other governments should too.
Mr. Yates was deputy national security adviser to the vice president from 2001 to 2005. Mr. Whiton was a State Department senior adviser from 2003 to 2009. They are respectively the C.E.O. and principal of D.C. International Advisory.