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India has long been regarded as an American ally but a series of missteps by the United States may be driving a strategic American partner directly into China’s embrace. One sign of that comes from India’s ministry of defense, which released its annual report last week. Cloaked in bureaucratic language is the highly significant revelation that relations between India and China have “generally progressed well in the last year based on their strategic and cooperative partnership” and that “there has been a convergence of views and actions on various issues of international fora.” This is bad news for the United States, but an outcome largely of its own making. Washington has needlessly provoked India on a vital issue, pushing New Delhi towards Beijing.

The American blunder has come over climate change policy at the United Nations, and reached its peak at the Copenhagen conference last December. Meeting in Beijing November 29, officials from Brazil, South Africa, India and China (known as BASIC), and Sudan (chair of the Group of 77 developing countries) drafted a joint document with four “non-negotiable” elements that would guide their behavior in Copenhagen. They would never accept legally binding greenhouse gas emissions cuts, mitigation actions that are not paid for by the developed countries, international (foreign) measurement of their mitigation actions, nor the use of climate change as a trade barrier by the developed countries. Having protected their economies from outside pressure, they would then insist that legally binding restrictions be imposed on the developed countries. As Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh stated, “BASIC countries are basic reality.

The BASIC-Group of 77 bloc deadlocked the UN conference, as the U.S. insisted that no agreement was possible without some mandates being imposed on all parties. As the summit neared its end, President Barack Obama barged into a private meeting between Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and demanded a compromise be reached. The resulting Accord did not impose mandates on any country, and thus should have diffused the confrontation. But the UN process continues, officially still based on conflict between the developed and developing nations over who will be required to make cuts. The next negotiating session is scheduled for April 9-11 in Bonn, Germany. It is likely two additional sessions will be scheduled before December when another large Copenhagen-style meeting is set for Cancun, Mexico.

If the Obama administration renews its push to impose mandatory emission controls on India and the other developing countries, it will push New Delhi even closer to Beijing. India understands that UN controls would be devastating to its economy, and its scientists are very skeptical about the entire climate change issue (as they should be). Washington must understand India’s position and back off, so the two countries can better cooperate on the much more important strategic interests which they share. […]

A new year of UN negotiations on climate change should not be allowed to disrupt U.S.-Indian relations. The Accord reached last year was the best of all possible outcomes in what has been a fatally flawed process. The Accord should be interpreted as acknowledgement that all nations have the right to pursue economic and environmental policies in their own interests. It should be seen as the end of the UN madness about climate as a zero sum game of international conflict. Moving forward, the U.S. should build on its agreement with India to cooperate in the expansion of nuclear power on the subcontinent. This is a positive program that supports growth while also minimizing green house gas emissions for those who are concerned about such things.

Climate change is a chimera that can only detract from the real factors that will govern the balance of power in Asia and thus the evolution of international politics. Handing China an issue with which it can unite the developing world against the United States has been a mistake of the first order that must be put to an end.

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