Published Twice a Month
January 23, 2019 – February 15, 2019

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

Guest Column

India converges with the US on the Indo-Pacific, to delicately “constrain” China

By David Scott

China-IndiaBrief131_1200x800Photo by U.S. Pacific Fleet on

On January 22, 2019, Lu Jingxian, a reporter with the Global Times, accused India of undermining bilateral relations with China that had been warming following the informal summit at Wuhan between Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping in April 2018. Lu reckoned that India had abandoned any “Wuhan spirit”, and had reverted to “toeing the US' policy line and joining the ‘China threat’ chorus”.

India-US security convergence was certainly on show at the inaugural 2 + 2 Foreign and Defense Ministers meeting on September 6, 2018. In advance of the meeting, Zhang Hualong argued that “India, US interests don’t align on the Indo-Pacific”, but it was precisely concerning the “Indo-Pacific” that ministers on both sides stressed convergence, including the need for:

(1) “rule of law, and freedom of navigation and overflight” - a criticism of China’s role in the South China Sea; and

(2) “transparent, responsible, and sustainable debt financing practices in infrastructure development” – a criticism of China’s Maritime Silk Road initiative.

At the 2 + 2 Meeting, further India-US defence convergence was signalled on three fronts. First, they agreed to set up tri-services joint military exercises in 2019. Secondly, they agreed on exchanges between the US Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) and the Indian Navy because of “the importance of deepening their maritime cooperation in the western Indian Ocean”. Thirdly, they signed a Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), a major step to facilitate interoperability between the two militaries and sale of high-end technology.

Tangible defence cooperation was on show on land with the Yudh Abhyas 2018 joint exercise which took place in September that year, and it was followed by anti-submarine exercises off the coast of Goa between Indian and US navies in October. This type of exercise was irrelevant for anti-piracy concerns but very relevant for countering Chinese submarine appearances in the Indian Ocean.

On the political front, Indian officials participated in the Consultations on the Indo-Pacific in November 2017, which involved the three other ‘Quad’ members – US, Japan and Australia – and focused on the “converging vision and values on issues of common interest in the Indo-Pacific”. Chinese commentators like Ai Jun dismissed Quad discussion of infrastructure cooperation as “no substitute for BRI in Indo-Pacific”. This was followed by Modi’s meeting with Donald Trump and Shinzo Abe on November 30, which was dismissed by Liu Xuanzun as “only symbolic”. Liu argued that it would not lead anywhere “because of differences in their Indo-Pacific strategies” – despite the Quad having just noted their “converging vision” for the Indo-Pacific.

Defence talks between India and the US on December 3, the fourth held in 2018, saw India’s Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman visit the Pentagon and then the US Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) in Hawaii. She was confident that “[US-India] relations, based on common democratic values, enjoy strong political and popular support in both countries” and that “there's a growing mutual trust and also the confidence in defence partnership, which augurs very well for the future”. Even as she spoke, tangible “strategic alignment” was reflected in the Cope North exercises between the US and Indian air forces held in India on December 3-14. These were substantive air defence, air combat, and attack drills.

Naval cooperation also continues to strengthen. The 21st India-US Executive Steering Group on bilateral naval cooperation met in New Delhi on December 12-13 for discussions on carrier strike group operations, maritime awareness, and expanding the Malabar exercises. The USS Anchorage arrived at Visakhapatnam, the headquarters of the Eastern Naval Command on December 22, exercising with INS Rajput and operationalizing the India-US Helicopter Operations from Ships other Than Aircraft Carriers (HOSTAC) agreement. The USS Rushmore arrived at Chennai, the headquarters of the Southern Naval command on January 23, 2019, and conducted passing exercises (PASSEX) with the Indian navy.

Strategic convergence is being maintained in 2019. India’s Ministry of External Affairs was happy to record their 2 + 2 Inter-Sessional Meeting held on January 11, as involving bilateral cooperation on “cross-cutting defence and foreign policy issues” and their role as partners in shaping “a free, open, inclusive, peaceful and prosperous Indo-Pacific”.

Defence sales have moved to a new level in the wake of the US granting India privileged ally-level Strategic Trade Authorization-1 (STA-1) status in August 2018, allowing New Delhi to import sensitive dual-use US technology. In November, India announced it would be buying 24 MH-60 ‘Romeo’ anti-submarine helicopters for its navy from the US, at an estimated cost of around $2 billion. Harsh Shringala, India’s ambassador to the US told a Congressional reception on February 7, 2019 that “our defense cooperation is stronger than ever before”, where India and the US “are working closely in the Indo-Pacific including with our partners Japan and Australia”. Possible Indian involvement in US anti-missile systems also surfaced in February. Further defence sales, as a means to reduce the US trade deficit vis-à-vis India, were pushed in the US-India Commercial Dialogue held on February 14.

Lu’s argument in January 2019 that the “Trump administration defined the Indo-Pacific strategy, roping in India to contain China's rise” is right as far as the Indo-Pacific containment logic of US strategy, but wrong in suggesting that India is being roped in. India is a careful, some would say hesitant, but nevertheless more than willing participant in moves to restrain China.

Back in September 2018, Chinese analysts like Yu Jincui may have argued that the 2 + 2 Foreign and Defence Ministers India-US format was the wrong path for India, and that instead “China and India need to coordinate in face of US [protectionist] pressure”; a line of argument repeated at the time by Hu Weijia. However, as developments between August 2018 and February 2019 have shown, India-China relations continue to be overshadowed by an ongoing “Great Game” between India and China in the Indian Ocean and between the US and China in the Pacific Ocean. The two great games in combination generate common US-India security interests, driving their security cooperation towards the tacit, delicate “constrainment” of China in the Indo-Pacific.

David Scott is a consultant and prolific writer on India and China foreign policy. A regular presenter on Asian and Pacific security at the NATO Defense College in Rome, he can be contacted at decb64_ZGF2aWRzY290dDM2NkBvdXRsb29rLmNvbQ==_decb64.

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

Govt denies mining activity by China near Arunachal Pradesh
The Times of India, February 14

The denial follows reports that China had begun large-scale mining on its side of the border with Arunachal where a huge repository of gold, silver and other precious minerals had apparently been found.

With eye on China, India launches project to construct Se La tunnel in Arunachal Pradesh
The Times of India, February 9

Officials said it will take the Border Roads Organization (BRO) around three years to complete construction of the Se La tunnel project, which will connect Tawang to the rest of Arunachal Pradesh, allowing for faster troop movement along the border with China.

China upset as India’s Narendra Modi lays foundation stone for new airport in Arunachal Pradesh
South China Morning Post, February 9

China has expressed its opposition to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh, a disputed region on the border between the two countries, where he laid the foundation stone for a new airport.

China signals it will continue to block India from NSG
The Times of India, January 31

China signalled on Wednesday (January 30) that it would continue to block India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group despite warming relations since the Wuhan talks in April last year.

Tranquillity, peace along border key to ensure smooth ties with China, says government
Hindustan Times, January 30

At the meeting in New Delhi, both sides reviewed the situation in border areas “with a view to ensure peace and tranquillity in accordance with the strategic guidance given” by Prime Minister Modi and President Xi Jinping during the Wuhan Summit, an official statement said.

India navy set to open third base in strategic islands to counter China
Reuters, January 23

India’s navy will open a third air base in the far-off Andaman and Nicobar islands to beef up surveillance of Chinese ships and submarines entering the Indian Ocean through the nearby Malacca Straits, military officials and experts said.

News Reports

China and India in the Region

Pakistan and China build friendship ties at Aman-19 multinational naval exercise but no room for India on the guest list

South China Morning Post, February 14

Pakistan’s multinational naval drill involving 46 nations has wrapped up in the Indian Ocean and, once again, India was not invited.

China-Sri Lanka cooperation under Belt and Road brings new opportunities for regional development: Chinese envo
Xinhua, February 6

The cooperation between China and Sri Lanka under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative has not only brought tangible benefits to the two countries and two peoples, but also generated new opportunities for regional development, according to China's Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Cheng Xueyuan

China’s BRI is facing resistance in region, says ministry report
Hindustan Times, February 4

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a connectivity project is facing a “push back”, especially in India’s immediate neighbourhood, according to a study by the Union ministry of external affairs (MEA).

China comes to Pakistan’s rescue with $2.5b loan
The Express Tribune, February 2

China has agreed to provide $2.5 billion in loans to Pakistan to boost official foreign exchange reserves that are not sufficient to provide cover to even two months of imports despite receiving $4 billion loans from two Middle Eastern countries.

Bhutan willing to strengthen pragmatic cooperation with China: PM
Xinhua, February 1

Bhutanese Prime Minister Lotay Tshering said his country is willing to strengthen pragmatic cooperation with China, including tourism, and resolve the border issue through friendly consultations.

China honours Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Maldives envoys with 'BRI Awards’
The Times of India, January 27

China has bestowed special awards on the envoys of Pakistan, the Maldives and Sri Lanka for their contribution to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

News Reports

Trade and Economy

US-China trade war likely to boost India’s exports by $10 billion: UNCTAD
Livemint, February 5

India will emerge as one of the largest beneficiaries of the trade war between the US and China with a potential increase in exports up to $10 billion or 3.5% of its exports, said the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

India’s buffalo meat exports to plunge as China cracks down on food smuggling
South China Morning Post, February 4

India’s buffalo meat exports are set to plunge 15 per cent to their lowest in six years, a leading industry said, as world’s top meat consumer China clamps down on food smuggling.

Generic drugs from India set to shake up market
China Daily, January 29

India is negotiating with the Chinese government about importing generic drugs from India, whose prices are far lower than the equivalent branded ones. According to one official, India is eager to see cheaper drugs on Chinese pharmacies' shelves as soon as possible.

Chinese importers rework up to $500 million Indian cotton yarn orders
The Economic Times, January 28

An improvement in US-China trade relations has started to hurt India’s cotton yarn exports and there is a chance of more damage. Chinese importers have renegotiated orders of Indian cotton yarn worth $400-500 million in the past few weeks.

India inks protocol to revive tobacco leaves export to China
The Economic Times, January 28

In a bid to reduce its burgeoning trade deficit with China, India has signed a protocol to revive the export of tobacco leaves to Beijing. The first such agreement was signed in 2008.

India outpaces China as world's fastest-growing economy, will continue to do so in 2019 and 2020, says UN report
Firstpost, January 23

According to the UN's World Economic Situation and Prospects (WESP) 2019, India's GDP growth is expected to accelerate to 7.6 percent in 2019-2020. In the case of China, the growth is estimated to decelerate to 6.3 percent in 2019.

News Reports

Energy and Environment

China and India are making the planet greener, NASA says
CNN, February 13

A NASA study said that India and China are leading in greening on land. "China and India account for one-third of the greening but contain only 9 per cent of the planet's land area covered in vegetation," said lead author Chi Chen of Boston University.

India becomes world’s 2nd largest LPG importer after China
The Times of India, February 6

India’s Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan says imports of LPG grew 12.5 percent over the past five years to 12 million metric tons (13 million tons) in 2018-19, surpassing Japan and putting India in second place behind China.

Climate change to melt two-thirds of Himalayan glaciers by 2100
CGTN, February 5

Nearly one-third of the Himalaya's glaciers will melt with a temperature rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius, affecting 1.65 billion people in the region, according to a new study released.

India to outpace China in increasing oil demand, report says
Nikkei Asian Review, February 3

India's demand for crude oil is rising at a pace that will outstrip China's volume of growth and put the country right behind the U.S. in this measure, a position that will allow the South Asian country to expand its influence in the market for the essential commodity.

India’s tariff to protect its solar power industry from China and Malaysia has failed, as Vietnam and Thailand fill the void
South China Morning Post, January 30

India’s bid to protect its solar-equipment makers by imposing a safeguard duty on cheap, Chinese imports has failed, according to domestic manufacturers, who are campaigning for tougher measures.


India’s submarine rivalry with China in the second nuclear age
The Strategist, February 15

By Ramesh Thakur, Emeritus Professor at the Australian National University (ANU) and co-convenor of the Asia–Pacific Leadership Network for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament.

Until recently, the China threat did not extend to India’s maritime environment. Of late, India has become increasingly concerned about the growing Chinese naval presence in the Indian Ocean, including submarines, and the operational reinforcement of China-constructed strategic deep-water ports in Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. This is now taking on a nuclear tinge.

Indian Ocean evolves to be a geopolitical wrestling venue among major global powers
Global Times, February 10

By Lin Minwang, Research Fellow with the Institute of International Studies at Fudan University

With the US, Japan, India and Australia successively releasing their own "Indo-Pacific strategy," the geopolitical competition in the Indian Ocean has gained growing attention and there has been much discussion about the position and role of the Indian Ocean in the geopolitical wrestling

From Doklam to ‘Tibet’, China-India Ties are bedevilled. But we share more than a disputed border
South China Morning Post, February 9

By Shashi Tharoor, Former Communications Head of the UN, and currently a Member of Parliament in India

Relations between Asia’s two neighbouring giants, China and India – with the latter just a few years away from eclipsing the former in population – are still bedevilled by a variety of problems. A recent report by the Indian Parliament’s Standing Committee on External Affairs, which I chair, has raised serious issues on Sino-Indian relations, which deserve consideration on both sides of the two countries’ disputed frontier.

Time for China-India relations to abandon Western paradigm
Global Times, February 2

By Liu Zongyi,Secretary-General of the Research Center for China-South Asia Cooperation at Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, Visiting Fellow of the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University, and a Distinguished Fellow of the China (Kunming) South Asia & Southeast Asia Institute

China and India are developing countries and ancient Eastern civilizations. The development of bilateral relations, if it follows the paradigm of Western international relations, will inevitably lead to geopolitical competition, confrontation, and security dilemmas. The two countries should abandon this Western paradigm and apply Eastern wisdom to solve development concerns when they arise.

U.S. Oil Sanctions On Venezuela Could Be An Energy Windfall For India And China
Forbes, January 31

By Ronak D. Desai, Associate at the Lakshmi Mittal South Asia Institute, Harvard University

The Trump Administration announced sanctions against Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A., or PDVSA. American refineries are the leading purchasers of Venezuelan oil, and the proposed sanctions would halt all oil trade between the two countries. The resulting over-supply of crude would become available to India and China at heavily discounted prices.

India and China, two peas in a pod
East Asia Forum, January 24

By Chris Ogden, Senior Lecturer/Associate Professor in Asian Security at the School of International Relations, University of St Andrews

India and China share a congruent set of core strategic aims that have similar domestic roots and dynamics. They both wish to become fully developed great powers in a multipolar international system. While these goals are long term in nature, the path to achieving them requires overcoming territorial, economic and regional differences in the short term.

Books and Journals

SA19Strategic Asia 2019: China’s Expanding Strategic Ambitions
The National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR), January 29, 2019

Edited by Ashley J. Tellis,Tata Chair for Strategic Affairs and Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Alison Szalwinski, Senior Director of Political and Security Affairs at NBR;and Michael Wills, Executive Vice President at NBR.

This is the eighteenth volume in the Strategic Asia series, which describes how China seeks to reshape the international system to serve its strategic aims. Each chapter assesses the country’s ambitions in a particular geographic or functional area and presents policy options for the United States and its partners to address the challenges posed by a rising China.


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

Have any feedback or comment? Email us decb64_Y2FnQG51cy5lZHUuc2c=_decb64