China-India Brief #110

Published Twice a Month
February 14 2018 - February 27, 2018

Centre on Asia and Globalisation
Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy

Guest Column

The Handling of Brinkmanship in China-India Military Relations

By Li Hak Yin 

The Handling of Brinkmanship in China-India Military Relations
The Indian government recently released a report stating that Chinese transgressions in Indian territory increased from 273 in 2016 to 426 in 2017. The Indian Minister of State for Defence Subhash Bhamre said the increasing number is probably caused by the different understanding between the two countries over the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The Indian report is a reminder, if a reminder was needed, that the China-India border dispute remains one of the fundamental problems in developing stable China-India relations in the long run.

Indeed, the territorial conflicts between China and India are not new, and they have not been resolved for decades in both Arunachal Pradesh (eastern front) and Aksai Chin (western front). The Tibetan “Prime Minister-in-exile”, Lobsang Sangay, believes that China is now getting more “belligerent” with an “expansionist mindset”, and he warns India to stay alert.

Beijing-New Delhi relations look rather fragile, and there are plenty of incentives for conflict escalation, which may make China-India military relations worse in the future. Apart from potential border clashes and the Tibet issue, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has raised Indian concerns. With the BRI, Beijing has intruded into India’s traditional sphere of influence in South Asia and the Indian Ocean through various infrastructure projects in Myanmar, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

Besides, the Maldives and Nepal have inclined to China’s side in recent years. The Maldives is regarded as “another front for the Chinese” after the pro-Indian government was ousted in 2012. The opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed is requesting international intervention in the current constitutional crisis, and some wonder if India will help solve the dispute. Though the Chinese government declined to respond to the issue, the rare appearance of Chinese warships in the Eastern Indian Ocean near the Maldives can hardly be regarded as a coincidence. In the case of Nepal, it seems that Kathmandu is moving closer to Beijing after the communist party came to power in last year’s general elections.

Testing the Water?

In retrospect, a turning point in China-India military relations was probably caused by the BRI and China’s increasing military presence in the region. In June last year, China dispatched a destroyer, a frigate, and a replenishment ship on a “goodwill tour” to more than 20 countries in Asia, Africa, and Europe. When Indian permission for the proposed port visit to Kochi by a Chinese vessel was delayed, the Chinese naval fleet sailed to its next destination. An Indian newspaper related the incident to New Delhi’s boycott of the BRI meeting in Beijing in May 2017, noting that the previous Chinese warships’ visit to Kochi had not encountered any problems.

The China-India military confrontation in Doklam in 2017 was another turning point. It escalated quickly with both sides deploying more forces to the disputed border in late June. However, the two countries kept communications open and clarified their intentions as clearly as possible. On 27 July, the Indian national security adviser Ajit Doval visited Beijing in preparation for the annual BRICS summit in September. During his visit, he met Chinese State Councillor Yang Jiechi as well as the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi not just on for BRICS issues, but also on the China-India military confrontation.

On 2 August, China published an official paper, “The Facts and China's Position Concerning Indian Border Troops Crossing of the China-India Boundary in the Sikkim Sector”, which defines the Indian military presence in Bhutan in the Doklam area as an illegal intrusion into Chinese territory. Such a Chinese official paper is not common. Beijing also sent out repeated but consistent signals through various official and diplomatic channels by warning India not to underestimate Chinese determination in maintaining its territorial integrity.

Adequate communications and accurate understandings are important even after the China-India standoff because the cost of a military clash between the two powers would be too high. The Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh requested Indian border police to learn Mandarin. He explained that “considering the frequent face-offs and skirmishes with Chinese soldiers…I ask all of you to learn Mandarin to…avoid misunderstandings leading to flashpoints”.

Nevertheless, the border disputes between China and India are not yet solved. The negotiations are proving very tough as both countries carry emerging great power status on their shoulders, which makes compromise difficult. Both countries have already deployed more sophisticated military facilities and weapons near Doklam after the confrontation. Beijing has strengthened the Shigatse Peace Airport and Lhasa Gonggar Airport, while New Delhi has done the same thing in Siliguri Bagdogra Airport and Hasimara Air Force Station. Chinese forces are now equipped with more helicopters, KJ-500 airborne early warning and command aircraft as well as HQ-9 surface-to-air missile systems. Similarly, the Indian MiG-27MLs have been replaced by the Su-30MKI with BrahMos cruise missiles.

Traditional Strategy with Interlocking Relations

With more advanced weapons and further military deployments, it would be a disaster if China and India cannot manage conflict escalation. However, a coin has two faces. The consequence of Doklam as well as the current military build-up by both countries could be to strengthen deterrence. This coupled with the presence of nuclear weapons could help maintain the status quo.

There are two more reasons that China and India can “manage” their military relations. First, both of them are part of BRICS and therefore share an interest in facilitating South-South cooperation. This may explain why China and India finally cooled their confrontation prior to the annual BRICS summit in September last year. Second, India has received support from the United States, Japan, and Australia in checking Chinese influence in the region. The American free and open Indo-Pacific order is indeed almost the same as the Japanese arc of freedom and prosperity. Both are music to India’s ears. In addition, India is partners in the Malabar naval exercises with the United States and Japan, which helps balance the increasing Chinese military presence in the region.


Dr. Li Hak Yin is a lecturer at the Department of Government and Public Administration in The Chinese University of Hong Kong. His research and teaching interests mainly cover the fields of global governance, international relations, Chinese foreign policy, Chinese and Hong Kong politics. Li’s works can be found in Asian Politics and Society, East Asian Policy, Journal of Contemporary China, and Place Branding and Public Diplomacy. 


The views expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy or the National University of Singapore.


News Reports

Bilateral relations

ITBP men posted along Sino-India border to learn Chinese to enhance skills
Hindustan Times, February 25
Around 25 jawans and officials of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) will take up a one-year certificate course in the Chinese language at the Sanchi University of Buddhist-Indic Studies in Madhya Pradesh’s Raisen district. The university’s registrar, Rajesh Gupta, feels the step would be helpful for the ITBP, which has to deal with the Chinese-speaking people along the Sino-India border.

Vijay Gokhle discusses bilateral ties with top Chinese officials
The Economic Times, February 24
Amid continued Sino-India discord over a host of issues, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale has made a surprise visit to Beijing and held talks with top Chinese officials on bilateral ties and topics related to regional and international importance.

China upgrading air power to counter India
The Times of India, February 20
China is upgrading the air defence facilities of its Western Theatre Command, which is responsible for monitoring the Line of Actual Control on the India-China border. State-run media quoted a military expert as saying that the upgrade was being done to “confront any threat from India”. The PLA released photographs of a J-10 fighter jet along with a J-11 fighter jet flying over the high-altitude plateau in western China during the current Chinese New Year and Spring Festival holiday.

Countering China, IAF set to operate Sukhoi jets in Uttarakhand's Jolly Grant airfield today
Zee News, February 19
A detachment of two Su-30 MKI aircraft would operate from Jolly Grant Airport in Dehradun for two days – February 19 and February 20. The move is being seen as a strategic counteraction against China, which violated airspace in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh in the recent past.

China angered as Narendra Modi visits Arunachal Pradesh
Reuters, February 15
China on Thursday (February 15) expressed anger over a visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Arunachal Pradesh, which China also claims, and said India should stop any action that might complicate the dispute. Modi is visiting as part of a tour of the northeastern states.

News Reports

China and India in the Regions

China's ocean observatory in Maldives sparks fresh security concerns
The Times of India, February 26
China is looking to establish a Joint Ocean Observation Station in the Maldives which the Maldivian opposition leaders claim will have a military application with provision even for a submarine base. Located in Makunudhoo, the westernmost atoll in the north (not far from India), the observatory will allow the Chinese a vantage point of an important Indian Ocean shipping route through which many merchant and other ships pass, said political sources in Male.

Chinese warships enter East Indian Ocean amid Maldives tensions
Reuters, February 20
Eleven Chinese warships sailed into the East Indian Ocean this month, a Chinese news portal said, amid a constitutional crisis in the tiny tropical island chain of the Maldives now under a state of emergency. The fleet comprised of destroyers and at least one frigate, a 30,000-tone amphibious transport dock and three support tankers. The report did not say when the fleet was deployed or for how long.

Nepal Leader vows to revive Chinese Dam Project, open to review pact over Nepalese soldiers in India
South China Morning Post, February 19
Nepal’s new communist prime minister will restart a Chinese-led US$2.5 billion hydropower project that was pulled by the previous government considered friendly towards India, and wants to increase infrastructure connectivity with Beijing to ease the country’s reliance on New Delhi. He also wants to “update” relations with India “in keeping with the times” and favours a review of all special provisions of Indo-Nepal relations, including the long-established practice of Nepalese soldiers serving India’s armed forces.

Australia mulls rival to China's 'belt and road' with US, Japan, India
Australia Financial Review, February 18
Australia is discussing with the United States, India and Japan the establishment of a joint regional infrastructure scheme to rival China's multibillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative in an attempt to counter Beijing's spreading influence. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is expected to discuss the idea during talks in Washington DC this week, possibly during a scheduled meeting with US President Donald Trump.

Indian deal on key Iranian port a potential check on China’s regional ambitions
South China Morning Post, February 19
India has taken over a strategically important port in Iran, giving it a potential bulwark against China’s growing influence in the region and access to Afghanistan and Europe that bypasses Pakistan. India signed the lease on Saturday (February 17) for Chabahar port in eastern Iran about 90km west of the Pakistani port of Gwadar, which is being developed by China.

News Reports

Trade and Economy

India more corrupt than China, better than Pak: Transparency
The Economic Times, February 22
India has been ranked worse than China and Bhutan in terms of 'corruption perception', but fares better than its other neighbours including Pakistan and Bangladesh, as per a global list released by graft watchdog Transparency International.

India, China lead Artificial Intelligence investment, adoption in Asia, says report
Financial Express, February 21
India and China are fast adopting Artificial Intelligence (AI) to reinvent their business models and perceive AI as a complete disruptive force, a new Forrester research said on February 21. Led by China (from 31 per cent to 61 per cent) and India (from 29 per cent to 69 per cent), the investment and adoption in Asia has jumped significantly between 2016 and 2017.

Dhaka Stock Exchange picks China's bid for stake over India's
Nikkei Asian Review, February 20
Bangladesh has agreed to sell a large stake in its stock exchange to a Chinese consortium, an official said on Tuesday (February 20), rebuffing a rival bid from India that raised political sensitivities. India’s NSE had offered 15 taka ($0.18) per share during the tender process this month. China’s Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges made a joint higher bid of 22 taka per share, or $122 million, and offered additional technical support worth nearly $37 million.

In Free Trade U-Turn, Modi Raises India's Import Duties
Bloomberg, February 15
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has raised import duties to their highest in three decades. India’s move comes as it faces the widest trade deficit of $16.3 billion in more than 4 1/2 years and a resilient rupee. India’s yawning deficit with Asian powerhouse China is a matter of concern. Imports from China have soared in the past few years, and exports from the $2.3 trillion economy have slowed at a time when the global economy is ticking higher.

News Reports

Energy and Environment

China and India renewable power use to explode over next decade
Singapore Business Review, February 26
Renewables capacity expansion in China and India will serve as strong tailwinds. The Asia Pacific’s renewable market is forecasted to expand the fastest over the coming decade thus outpacing other regions. The positive outlook for the region’s renewables market will be pushed by renewables capacity expansion in China and India, which is expected to reach 430GW between 2017 and 2027.

Trump blames India, China for his decision to withdraw from Paris climate deal
ET Energy World, February 24
President Donald Trump has again blamed India and China for his decision last year to withdraw from the historic Paris climate accord, saying the agreement was unfair as it would have made the US pay for nations which benefited the most from the deal.

India Will Lead Global Oil Demand By 2035, February 19
India’s energy consumption is expected to grow the fastest among all major economies by 2035, according to the BP Energy Outlook from 2017. Energy consumption in transportation is seen rising by 5.8 percent per year and oil will still be the dominant fuel source with a 93-percent market share in 2035, BP said. By 2030, India will overtake China as the largest growth market for energy in volume terms, according to the UK oil supermajor.

India to host this year's World Environment Day
Xinhua, February 19
India will host this year's World Environment Day on June 5, the country's environment minister Harsh Vardhan and Erik Solheim, UN Environment's Executive Director, jointly announced here on Monday (February 19). This year's theme would be "beat plastic pollution" which would urge governments, industry, communities and individuals to come together and urgently reduce the production and excessive use of single-use plastic polluting the environment.

Modi: India committed to protecting the environment          
The BRICS Post, February 16
India will not shrink away from its responsibility to protect the environment, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at a World Sustainable Development Summit in New Delhi on Friday (February 16). “India believes in growth but is also committed to protecting the environment,” he said. He also urged other leading countries to fulfil their commitments to a global unified approach to dealing with climate change.


The 'Quad' Is Not A Rival To China's Belt And Road Initiative -- It's A Precursor
Forbes, February 25
Xi Jinping's signature foreign policy contribution–The Belt and Road Initiative–has attracted acres of positive press coverage since it was unveiled in 2014, but has lately inspired an apparent rival in the resurrected form of the "Quadrilateral Security Dialogue" between the U.S., Japan, Australia and India.

A world of debt mortgages our economic future
Financial Times, February 23
Those who can’t lead, borrow. The American, Chinese and Indian governments boast of the strength of their economies, yet they are also borrowing intensely. Such a situation is not only contradictory; it will also prove harmful to their chances at global leadership in the future.

Why India's 'Act East' Needs China -- And China's 'Go West' Needs India
Forbes, February 21
India's Prime Minster Narendra Modi has lately been talking up foreign investment in India's impoverished northeast. As part of his Act East strategy for regional development, he has lobbied nearby Southeast Asian countries to invest more in India. It may seem strange for India to be lobbying other developing countries for investment, but India is a vast country harboring massive regional disparities. Parts of India could indeed benefit from ASEAN economic spillovers.

Welcome to the New Indian Ocean
The Diplomat, February 21
The strategic environment in the Indian Ocean is changing fast. In the last few years we have seen growing strategic rivalry between major powers such as China and India as they expand their roles in the region. We are now also seeing new players competing to build their own areas of influence and blocs in the Indian Ocean.

China: Four questions for the Quad
China Policy Institute Analysis, February 14
Recently the four naval chiefs of the United States, Japan, Australia, and India met at the Raisina Dialogue, India’s premier foreign policy gathering. In his keynote to the panel, US Pacific Commander Admiral Harry Harris declared that “China is a disruptive, transitional force in the Indo-Pacific.” He went a step further and impressed upon his counterparts the need to take “tough decisions in 2018 against unilateral ways to change the use of shared natural resources with rule-based freedom of navigation.”

Books and Journals

China’s Transformation: The Success Story and the Success Trap
Sage Publication, December 2017

by Manoranjan Mohanty

The author is a renowned political scientist and China scholar whose writings have focused on theoretical and empirical dimensions of social movements, human rights, the development experience and the regional role of India and China. He is Vice-President of the Council for Social Development (CSD) and Editor of CSD’s social science journal Social Change, published by SAGE. He is also Chairperson, Development Research Institute, Bhubaneswar, and Honorary Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies (ICS), Delhi.

Based on the author’s research in China for over three decades, China’s Transformation: The Success Story and the Success Trap shows how its ‘reform and open door’ policy evolved and helped achieve tremendous economic success. However, it also generated serious social and environmental problems. The book presents that the consequences of this success story of growth are so strong that it has been difficult for China to change its main development path to achieve a desirable level of equity and sustainability. The author describes this as the ‘success trap’ that China is currently grappling with.

The author argues that China’s reform path is grounded in the premises of the European Industrial Revolution backed by strong sociopolitical forces at home, indicating that a major change in the development path is unlikely. However, all indications point to a strong and prosperous China as a rising world power in the coming decades, trying to cope with the sociopolitical problems in its own way.


Compiled and sent to you by Centre on Asia and Globalisation and
the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore