Hillary out to prove a political point
By Op Rana (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-07-18 08:10

Hillary out to prove a political point

Persuading the divided coalition government in India to sign an end-use verification deal for defense supplies from America is seen as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's top diplomatic priority during her visit to that country.

The main opposition to such a deal reportedly comes from Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony himself, even though he is a member of the majority Congress party of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Reports in the Indian media say Antony could even stay away from the capital to avoid meeting with Clinton.

If signed, the pact will allow American officials to inspect any defense equipment New Delhi buys from Washington - even long after the shipment - to satisfy the Pentagon that they are not being "misused" by India's armed forces. Antony has been resisting severe pressure from the US to clear the deal, and may continue doing so.

But from what a section of the Indian media has been saying it appears diplomacy is not the only issue on Clinton's agenda; she is out to prove a political point, too. For her, leaving a political imprint on US foreign policy seems to be more important.

She started her role as secretary of state with a visit to Japan, South Korea and China, making it clear that her policy focus was (East and South) Asia. By visiting India after almost a month of being laid down by a fractured elbow, she has demonstrated that the US will continue to pursue that policy.

The former US first lady also wants to prove that she is very much in the thick of things in the foreign office. She wants to dispel speculation that she, and not President Barack Obama or Vice-President Joe Biden, is the top US diplomat after a month of limited exposure because of her fractured elbow.

And to prove that, she will bend some written and unwritten diplomatic norms. She will spend two days in India's business capital of Mumbai, and just one day in New Delhi. She has even drawn up her own itinerary for her stay in Mumbai, meeting mostly people from different walks of life, rather than ministers and officials.

If India signs the end-use verification deal it will raise her diplomatic stature. But as former co-chair of the India caucus in the US Senate, she knows the intricacies of Indian politics could delay or even thwart the deal.

And to ensure that her visit is seen as a success she has resorted to diplomacy of a different kind because she doesn't want her policy thrust in East and South Asia to be jeopardized - and that pretty much seems to be the US administration's view too.

The author is senior editor of China Daily

(China Daily 07/18/2009 page11)