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China's 'greater role' in S Asia: Why India is unfazed

Last updated on: October 1, 2010 12:45 IST

Image: National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon
Photographs: Reuters

Taking exception to the contention that certain provisions in India's Nuclear Liability Bill would jeopardise the India-United States civilian nuclear agreement, National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon assured that Washington's concerns are being addressed and would be resolved before US President Barack Obama visits India in November.
In the interaction that followed his remarks at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on India-US Relations: On the Eve of President Obama's Visit to India, Menon, responding to on how the angst of US business and industry over the liability bill could be alleviated, acknowledged, "What we need to do is to work our way through this issue".

Reportage: Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC

NSA speaks on nuke liability bill

Image: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with US President Barack Obama
Photographs: Reuters
Conceding that there are indeed deep concerns among US companies on how the liability act would be implemented and what kind of liability would be involved, he said, "We have started conversations with the companies, but we are also working our way through the issue".
Menon noted, "Our lawyers have told us that the act does not impose any additional obligations on the companies, but if it does, there should be a legal way of dealing with it".
"So, we are hoping to actually commission whatever governmental work we have to do on the civil liability issue before (Obama's) visit, so that by the time we get to the visit, draft commercial negotiations could be completed by the companies and they could see their own way forward," he said.

NSA speaks on nuke liability bill

Image: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with US President Barack Obama
Photographs: Reuters

Menon argued, "I don't think it is going to be as difficult as we make it out to be because I think there is a normal process which I think is familiar to Washington. When bills are being drafted and are lying in Parliament, everybody tries to affect that outcome in their own special interests. I guess here you call it lobbying. But the fact is that everybody puts out their expectations and then tries to see what they get. Once the bill is done and becomes an act, then I think we see how it actually works.

 He reiterated, "We don't see any real insurmountable problem in working through the civil liability act in practice, which could prevent companies from doing business. The  talks had begun with some companies and we are very happy to talk to them to work it out in practice."

'We have global interests, the Chinese have global interests'

Image: Chinese General Ma Xiaotian and National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon
Photographs: Vivek Prakash/Reuters
In response to another question by -- about the recent remarks by Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg assigning a major role for China in South Asia and saying that India has a role to play in East Asia -- Menon said that in today's globalised world, this was no big deal.
"These are not powers which are limited to some little geographical area. We have global interests, the Chinese have global interests. All of us, all the major powers, as I said, are not only interdependent on each other, but also are dealing with each other across a whole range of issues, none of which recognises some artificial geographical construct like South Asia or East Asia," he said.

'Of course, China has a presence in South Asia'

Photographs: Reuters

He argued, "For me, it's just an academic argument as to whether China has a major role to play in South Asia. Of course, China has a presence in South Asia and has so for a long time. We have had a presence in East Asia for a long time."

 "But that presence has changed and evolved as China has changed, as South Asia has changed and we have changed. And we will continue to do that," he added.

'We will continue to work in Afghanistan'

Image: A boy and his friends look at a view in Kabul
Photographs: Reuters

On Afghanistan, Menon put to rest any perception in some quarters that the Indian government is frustrated about not being assigned a greater role in the conflict-torn country as part of the US' policy.

"I don't think it is for us to give the US a greater role or for the US to give us a great role. I don't think that s the way we look at it," he said.
Menon explained that what India is looking for is a peaceful, moderate Afghanistan, which is not prone to anarchy or a haven for terrorists, which would be not just a regional threat, but a global one. "So, that's the goal and that stays the goal, and we will continue to work towards that goal with our partners, with the US," he said.

On India's role in Afghanistan

Image: Students at a school in Afghanistan
Photographs: Reuters
Menon said that India would continue to work towards the development and reconstruction of the war-ravaged country as it has been doing for the past few decades and spoke of India's investment of more than $1.2 billion in Afghanistan.
"We have people on the ground working on development projects right through irrespective of what the local balance of power is, and it has worked well," said Menon, adding, "We have found that has a great impact on the ground".
Menon, who was in Washington to meet his American counterpart Retired General Jim Jones at the White House, also paid courtesy calls on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates. He went to Capitol Hill to meet with the Congressional leadership, including Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Senator John Kerry and House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Howard Berman to apprise them of the preparations for Obama's visit and how much the government and the people of India were looking forward to it.