Washington: A senior US official on Monday defended a role for China in South Asia despite Indian sensitivities and said that New Delhi likewise had a role to play in East Asia.
President Barack Obama`s administration has tried to broaden relations with both emerging Asian powers but it has struggled to address perceptions in New Delhi that the United States is more interested in China.
Some Indian pundits reacted with dismay last year when Obama visited Beijing and, in a joint statement with President Hu Jintao, called for the United States and China to cooperate in South Asia.
"I know there is a certain sensitivity maybe about that, but I don`t see that it should be the case," Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg said Monday of the Indian concerns.
"China has an important role -- it`s a neighbor of South Asia -- and it`s unimaginable that China would not be involved. And so the question is can we work together in a positive way on shared interests in creating peace, stability and economic opportunity in South Asia," Steinberg said.
Steinberg, addressing the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, said that the United States likewise was engaging India over East Asia and considered New Delhi a "key partner."
"We see India as (an) East Asia country. We engage with them on issues like North Korea and the like because we think of the importance that India plays," he said.
Steinberg said China could play a role in bringing stability to Afghanistan and Pakistan, two key priorities for the Obama administration as it campaigns against Islamic extremism.
India has longstanding territorial disputes with China and has been suspicious about Beijing`s close relations with Pakistan. The United States earlier this year voiced concerns to Beijing about its planned sale of two civilian nuclear reactors to Islamabad.
Obama plans to pay his first presidential visit to India in November. Many Indians have fond memories of former president George W. Bush, who championed a landmark nuclear cooperation deal with New Delhi.