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Looking Southeast, India Offers an Alternative to China

Friday, Oct. 1, 2010

For almost 20 years, Indian development has been guided by the "Look East" policy, based on the premise that Asia holds the key to India's economic and strategic future. The recent state visits by Indian President Pratibha Devisingh Patil to Laos and Cambodia, which yielded Indian offers of trade initiatives and cash loans, have demonstrated that, for New Delhi, an eastern orientation is still promising.

Shifting its gaze northward, however, tends to leave India blinking uncomfortably in China's reflected light. Admired but also feared, emulated but also repudiated, China can spoil the appeal of Asia's opportunities for India. Economic ties between the two countries are strengthening -- bilateral trade will surpass $60 billion this year, a twentyfold increase in the span of a decade -- yet China's strategic activities continue to ruffle New Delhi. Chinese military projects near the countries' disputed border leave the Indians questioning Beijing's motives, as do China's overtures to countries like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, long considered part of India's backyard. As a result, it has become commonplace to hear Indian charges of encroachment and encirclement -- sometimes fair, sometimes overblown -- directed China's way. ...

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