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Asia in the Balance

CAMBRIDGE – Last year, the leaders of all five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council visited India, accompanied by delegations of business leaders. The Indian economy has been growing at more than 8% annually, making it increasingly attractive for trade and investment. When US President Barack Obama visited in November, he supported permanent membership of the UN Security Council for India. So did British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev. But the last to visit, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, said nothing at all about it.

Official pronouncements stress friendly relations between India and China, and some trade analysts argue that the two giant, rapidly growing markets will become an economic “Chindia.” When Premier Wen visited several years ago, he signed a comprehensive five-year strategic cooperation pact. As Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh put it at the time, “India and China can together reshape the world order.”

Such statements reflect a considerable change from the hostility that bedeviled Indian-Chinese relations following the two countries’ 1962 war over a disputed border in the Himalayas. Nevertheless, strategic anxiety lurks below the surface, particularly in India.

China’s GDP is three times that of India’s, its growth rate is higher, and its defense budget has been increasing. The border dispute remains unsettled, and both countries vie for influence in neighboring states such as Myanmar. And, in recent years, China has worked behind the scenes to prevent permanent Security Council membership from conveying great-power status on India.