RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And as China flexes its economic and military muscle, it's bumping up against Asia's other big and fast-growing power: India. Some defense analysts are watching uneasily as China develops commercial ports in several countries around India.
NPR's Corey Flintoff reports from New Delhi.
COREY FLINTOFF: To understand India's concerns about China, it helps to remember that the two countries have a history of border disputes, and that they fought a brief, but ferocious war over territory in 1962.
Arun Kumar Singh is a retired Indian vice admiral who habitually refers to China's military as he.
Vice Admiral ARUN KUMAR SINGH (Indian Navy, Retired): He wants to keep us in a state of imbalance, because he wants us to be kept boxed up in South Asia, though we are the second-largest and possibly the largest - or the fastest-growing economy in the world today.
FLINTOFF: As a navy man, Singh is particularly concerned with China's efforts to build commercial ports in countries such as Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan - the so-called String of Pearls strategy. The thinking goes that China is establishing these facilities for commercial purposes now, but that they might be turned into military bases at some point in the future.
Mr. SIDDHARTH VARADARAJAN (New Delhi Bureau Chief, The Hindu Newspaper): The string of pearls itself is a term - sounds very Chinese, doesn't it? But it's a term that the Rand Corporation came up with originally, to describe what was meant to be a strategy of surrounding India with a whole bunch of bases.
FLINTOFF: Siddharth Varadarajan studies military policy as the New Delhi bureau chief for The Hindu newspaper. He says it doesn't make much sense to base India's policy toward China on speculation about a military strategy that may or may not exist.
Jabin Jacob is also skeptical about the string of pearls theory. Jacob is a senior research fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies in New Delhi. He says India's policy planners should be more concerned with the way China is using its military in what are called military operations other than war, such as anti-piracy patrols off the coast of Somalia.
Mr. JABIN JACOB (Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies): How will you deal with a China that is actively crisscrossing the Indian Ocean, and building up relations with other Indian Ocean littoral states where India has traditionally had sway?
FLINTOFF: Jacob says India needs to involve itself actively with its smaller neighbors and their problems if it wants to maintain its influence. He says policymakers also need to remember that China has its reasons for being wary of India's activities in China's neighborhood.
Mr. JACOB: We have excellent relations with Mongolia and Vietnam, and the Chinese are not unaware of it. So, we only focus on the String of Pearls surrounding India. But, you know, we have another string, shall we say, garlanding the Chinese, which they are equally paranoid about.
FLINTOFF: Siddharth Varadarajan says that a lot of China's current thinking on military policy is really defensive in nature, a way to protect legitimate and vital shipping lanes.
Mr. VARADARAJAN: If India, as a major Indian Ocean power, could reassure the Chinese that India stands for freedom of the seas, that could be one concrete way to actually build confidence and trust and also greater openness with the Chinese.
FLINTOFF: Jacob has another reminder for foreign policy wonks who may be trying to figure out the strategies of both China and India. He says both huge countries are going to be focused on their own internal problems long into the future, and that will drive their foreign policy agendas.
Corey Flintoff, NPR News, New Delhi.
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