China and India occupy first and third places in terms of economic development in Asia, respectively. Both countries have enormous land and human resources, sea access routes and big plans for further development. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that the two are in fundamental competition with each other. Aside from this, long-lasting territorial disputes complicate the Sino-Indian relations.
The rivalry between such powerful and ambitious players as PRC and India on the world stage is quite natural and even beneficial as long as it remains civilized. However, armed conflicts in 1962 and 1967 demonstrated that the Sino-Indian standoff can become uncivilized. Since then, the whole world treats each new escalation between the two Asian giants, armed with nuclear weapons, with apprehension, knowing full well that any large-scale conflict between India and China may affect not only the security situation in Asia but also in other regions.
The last incident, which forced the international community to anticipate a new Sino-Indian conflict, occurred in the summer of 2017, when India took its partner’s, the Kingdom of Bhutan’s, side in a disagreement with PRC over the Doklam plateau. Both Indian and Chinese forces were once again in dangerous proximity to each other. Fortunately, the conflict was resolved by diplomatic means and both sides withdrew their respective forces at the end of August 2017.
Yet another reason for the strained relationship between India and PRC is the Chinese collaboration with Pakistan, India’s staunch enemy, who India has already waged armed conflicts against.
The Sino-Indian competition for influence in the countries in South and South East Asia, Africa and the whole Indian Ocean are worth noting too.
The US actively takes advantage of this situation as America views India as its strategic partner in the struggle against Chinese domination in the Asia Pacific region. However, it is doubtful that India feels satisfied with this role. Indian as well as Chinese leadership understand the need for extensive work on normalizing relations between the two countries. The 2017 events demonstrated that this undertaking must begin as soon as possible. However, the desire to fully protect their own interests prevent India and China from resolving their disagreements within a short period, still, certain steps forward are being taken.
There has been more active contact between the two state leaders in recent years. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Chinese leader, Xi Jingpin, have occasionally met and taken part in negotiations bilaterally as well as in the course of international events.
In June 2017, India as well as its adversary, Pakistan, became members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which counts China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as its members. SOC’s main goals include the strengthening of friendly relations among member-states and joint security cooperation. This could, in time, lead to harmonizing relations between India and China as well as Pakistan. Russia could play a role of an intermediary because of its friendly as well as long-term relationship with India, and its efforts to improve cooperation with both PRC and Pakistan.
Yet another informal meeting between Narendra Modi and Xi Jingpin took place in Wuhan, China, in April 2018. The Chinese leader stated that India and China had reached agreements on a series of important issues thus strengthening their partnership in recent years. He also noted that PRC and India are the largest developing countries with respective populations of more than 1 billion people. According to Xi Jingpin, both countries are important drivers of economic growth and promote economic globalization as well as multipolarity, and positive relations between the two nations are crucial for the world’s stability and human development. This is why PRC and India should be good-natured neighbors and partners, who take their respective strategic interests into account and resolve disagreements by any reasonable means. In response, Narendra Modi expressed his agreement with Xi Jingpin’s statements about the position the two nations occupy on the world stage and the need for strategic relations between India and China. According to India’s Prime Minister, India is intent on following its independent political course, while at the same time supporting globalization and multipolarity, and it is ready to cooperate with PRC to the benefit of all other developing nations.
It can be said that an important outcome of the April meeting between the Indian and Chinese leaders is their decision to end conflicts in disputed territories on the Sino-Indian border.
Many experts agree that India and China are on the verge of a new phase in their relationship. Both countries are becoming more and more influential players in the world, with a lasting friendly relationship between the two increasingly determining global politics and economy.
Taking into account the powerful positions reached by both India and China thus far, any conflict between them may result in irreplaceable losses. We should also consider the fact that the benefits from long-term cooperation are high enough to warrant their protection against any short-term interests that arise.
Still there are a number of disagreements between India and China. For instance, India is worried about the rapid development of the global transport and economic initiative, One Belt One Road (OBOR), which encompasses India’s nearby neighbors such as Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. India views this project as a threat to its influence in the region. A military base, established by PRC, in an African nation of Djibouti, a strategically important location en route from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea, is an additional cause for concern. China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, established within the framework of OBOR, is yet another reason for India’s indignation as the corridor traverses through Kashmir, a territory claimed by India as its own.
Despite this, India and China remain intent on improving cooperation in every possible sphere. Consequently, in 2017, Sino-Indian trade volumes reached record levels of $84.4 billion. Both this fact and the active political work carried out by the two nations give us hope that the relationship between India and China will continue to improve in the near future.
Dmitry Bokarev, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”