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Superpower lite: US rethinks India

The visit to Washington this week by India's prime minister, Manmohan Singh, symbolizes a change in the fraught but inextricable relationship between the world''s two largest democracies: an unrivaled superpower and an aspiring one.



For decades, it has been a dalliance of love and hate. Indians have craved American visas, denim, movies and music. But the two countries were "estranged democracies" in the past, as Singh said recently. Previously, the Cold War had led to chilled relations, with Washington backing Pakistan and the Soviet Union backing India.



This week, in a joint statement issued by the two countries, President George W. Bush called India a "responsible" nuclear country. He also recommended a deal that would allow India to buy fuel and parts for civilian nuclear reactors if it opened its nuclear sites to inspection.



Regardless of how soon uranium will flow to this country of one billion, Singh''s visit may signify America''s welcoming of a new type of superpower - militarily potent, economically dynamic, regionally assertive, independently minded but still nonthreatening to the United States. Call it superpower lite.



India's image is starkly different from that of China, the other fast-developing country, which is seen as a menacing rival, especially after President Hu Jintao said it would become a "world power second to none."



Compared with the United States'' relationship with China, there seems to be less conflict with India, despite India''s efforts to project its economic, diplomatic and military influence more assertively - including in ways that contravene U.S. desires.



It raises the question of whether India, which has jealously lagged behind China economically, will have a long-term advantage because it can be a world power without being a threat.



India is no geopolitical shrinking violet. It is pushing its influence in Asia with trade agreements, direct investment, military exercises, aid funds, energy cooperation and new infrastructure. Its circle of friendships spans from Iran to Japan and includes emerging ties with countries like Tajikistan, Thailand, Myanmar and Vietnam.



The transparent, manageable ascendance of this superpower lite puts India in an unusual position and has sparked confusion in India: Has Singh won a victory for India''s standing, or will India be a U.S. satellite?



(Edited)



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