Thursday, September 16, 2010

IIT-M to set up observatory to keep an eye on China

It was the ancient Chinese strategist Sun Tzu who spoke of the importance of knowing one's enemy when he said, "If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the results of a hundred battles". India has evidently decided to take a cue from that principle: It will now keep a keen eye on its competitors on the global stage. And it will do this through its best centres of excellence — the Indian Institutes of Technology.

Each IIT, which is free to pick the country it wants to study, will establish an observatory and study the developments of nations strategic to India. IIT-Madras, which mooted the proposal, is setting up a centre that will follow China — right from Mao Tse Tung's revolution and Deng Xioping's reforms to every step that the dragon takes today. The idea was approved by Union human resource development minister Kapil Sibal.

"A centre of studies on a foreign country may be established with a view to developing expertise on countries of strategic importance," says the note shared in the meeting with Sibal. "Each IIT may concentrate on a particular country. As in the US, such centres will be able to advise the government, especially in terms of strategic negotiations... Such centres will necessarily have advisory boards of former foreign secretaries and ambassadors."

The idea of such centres is borrowed from the West. Asia's upward surge recently saw several American and British universities starting observatories that most commonly watched India and China. No longer are neighbours and nations just that; enmeshed among countries are multiple complex ties, making foreign policy a frontal issue. And experts say that observatories are as much international watchdogs as they are vehicles for turbocharging bilateral relations.

In its pitch, IIT-Madras stated: "China is important in geo-political terms. China and India also compete on the world stage. An engaged study of policy would provide a sound basis for creating an interpretative framework within which China may be understood."