Published Twice a Month
February 28, 2019 – March 12, 2019
Centre on Asia and Globalisation
Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy
China-India relations are undergoing a critical period of development
By Li Qingyan
Image from Max Pixel
The Wuhan Summit has led to a positive turn-around in China-India relations. A series of bilateral interactions such as the BRICS Summit at Johannesburg and the launch of a new mechanism for people-to-people exchanges followed the positive development of ties. However, when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the so-called region of “Arunachal Pradesh” in February 2019, the action complicated the boundary question. The Chinese government has never recognised the region as being part of India and has firmly opposed Modi’s visit to the disputed area. Due to the complexity of bilateral relations, it is understandable that such turbulence cannot be absolutely avoided, but both sides should cherish the hard-won improvement in relations in order to secure future prospects for mutual development and regional stability.
As the two largest countries in Asia, both China and India have entered a historic period of national rejuvenation. Bilateral relations occupy an important position in their respective foreign policies. Despite being each other’s “unmovable neighbours”, the development of China-India relations has seen its share of ups and downs. The Modi period was no exception. Accompanied by increasing economic interactions, both China and India have seen their interests collide in overlapping neighbouring areas, especially in South Asia and the Indian Ocean. Longstanding disagreements over the border dispute, Pakistan and Tibet, as well as new sources of contention like China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and India’s accession to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) have widened their mutual trust deficit. Moreover, New Delhi has been strengthening its strategic partnerships with Japan and the US, and reinforcing its regional dominance in South Asia.
It is inevitable for two neighbours to come into competition over overlapping areas of interest; however, the traditional ‘zero-sum’ mentality that India continues to hold on to poses obstacles for future cooperation with China in South Asia and the Indian Ocean region. Thanks to the BRI, infrastructure connectivity and economic ties among the regional countries have dramatically improved. For much of their modern history, most countries in South Asia have remained in a state of poverty and backwardness, and hardly benefited from development dividends brought about by economic globalization and urbanization due to their poor transport infrastructure and weak economic integration. The BRI aims to ameliorate the situation through Chinese investments and technology, and has received positive responses from countries in the region like Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. For instance, Beijing and Kathmandu are jointly pushing cross-border transport connections and trade freedom zones under the framework of BRI cooperation, which would vastly improve the isolated conditions of this landlocked country and improve the overall connectivity of the trans-Himalayan region.
Actually, ‘common development’ (共同发展) should be the core factor of China-India relations. The world today is undergoing profound changes, full of uncertainties and destabilizing factors. As the two largest developing countries, with populations exceeding 1 billion each, the relationship between China and India will have a huge impact on world peace and development. At Wuhan, the leaders on both sides took stock of the situation and reached a consensus: only through common development could they achieve their respective goals of national rejuvenation. This consensus laid the foundation for mutual trust between China and India and encouraged the two countries to meet each other halfway.
Besides, as important representatives of developing countries and emerging markets, China and India share many common interests at the international, regional and bilateral levels. Both hope to reform the existing international, political, and economic order, and enhance the representation and voice of developing countries. Against the backdrop of the rise of anti-globalization and trade protectionism, it is particularly important for China and India to jointly address the challenges of global governance, promote economic globalization, and defend the principles of free trade and the multilateral trading system. From a regional perspective, since both are members of important regional organizations including BRICS, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), they could align their development initiatives and help to promote economic integration and connectivity to benefit all countries in the region.
At the bilateral level, there is great potential for all-round cooperation. Both China and India possess huge domestic markets, with a combined population of over 2.6 billion, representing more than 35% of the global population and about 20% of global GDP. The economies of the two countries are highly complementary, as China can provide technical and financial support for India to improve infrastructure construction, while India has a sound foundation in the digital and pharmaceutical industries. The Modi government has been vigorously promoting its manufacturing industry and needs to attract huge foreign investment. According to figures from China's Ministry of Commerce, bilateral trade between China and India hit a record high of USD 95.5 billion in 2018, up 13.2% from the previous year. In recent years, China’s private investment in India has been growing steadily and is expected to create more jobs for India through bilateral industrial cooperation, especially in small labor-intensive industries. China’s smartphone companies have gained an edge in the Indian market which will facilitate the Modi government’s goal of building a “Digital India”.
The historical development of China-India relations has amply demonstrated that mutual cooperation would benefit both countries, while confrontation would hurt both. Under the new circumstances, China and India should insist on the path of peaceful development based on mutual trust. Only by grasping the relationship from a strategic perspective can the practical cooperation between the two sides be carried out smoothly and bilateral relations become a positive factor in promoting world stability and development. China hopes that India can view its rise in a positive and rational way since Beijing has always believed that a healthy and stable bilateral relationship would be in the fundamental interests of the two peoples.
In fact, maintaining steady improvement in China-India relations requires the effort of both sides. However, under the influence of the internal and external environments, India seems unsure of how to respond to China. On the one hand, India would like to make use of China’s capital and market to promote its economic development. On the other hand, India intends to utilize the “Indo-Pacific strategy” to balance China’s influence. Therefore, the possibility of further turbulence within China-India relations cannot be ruled out. At the same time, India’s aspiration to be a great power and its tradition of non-alignment make New Delhi reluctant to become a geopolitical tool of other powers. India’s interest in the Indo-Pacific strategy is different from that of the US, Japan, and Australia. Moreover, it is not in India’s interest to provoke confrontation with China, at least for now. After all, a stable and peaceful environment is the precondition for any country to achieve positive and steady growth. Any fluctuation in China-India relations will undoubtedly negatively impact India’s economic development and delay the process of India’s rise.
Li Qingyan is Senior Research Fellow at the China Institute of International Studies with special focus on geopolitics in South Asia and the region’s relationship with China.
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.
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The Security Dilemma and India-China Relations
Asian Security 15, no. 1 (2019): 60-72.
Srinath Raghavan is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research (ORF), New Delhi.
This article examines whether the concept of a security dilemma is useful in understanding the trajectory of India–China relations over the past seven decades. It considers several phases through which this relationship has passed and it argues that the security dilemma has never been at work. The relationship is characterized not by a security dilemma but by fundamental conflicts of interests. These have been exacerbated or ameliorated by changes in domestic politics and the wider strategic context. Going forward, too, these factors are likely to influence relationship.
Compiled and sent to you by Centre on Asia and Globalisation and the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore.
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