After Xi’s India Visit, Crystal Ball Says: “Doubts Remain”
The recent visit of the Chinese President Xi Jinping to India set off a wave of speculations regarding the relations between the two most populous nations in the world. The fact that the Chinese President first landed in Ahmedabad in the Indian Prime Minister’s home state of Gujarat, shows how the power equations have changed ...
The recent visit of the Chinese President Xi Jinping to India set off a wave of speculations regarding the relations between the two most populous nations in the world. The fact that the Chinese President first landed in Ahmedabad in the Indian Prime Minister’s home state of Gujarat, shows how the power equations have changed in India with the shift of power away from the national capital of New Delhi.
However, President Xi’s visit was preceded by concerns in India regarding China’s growing maritime profile in the Indian Ocean, long seen as India’s backyard. Beijing knows that in order to achieve great power status, it must be a great power on the seas as well. And therein lies the reason for China’s growing assertiveness in the maritime realm in India’s immediate neighbourhood. During this trip, Xi also visited the Maldives and Sri Lanka before he visited India. These two countries lie very close to the sea lanes of communication which bring China energy and mineral resources from Africa and the Middle-East.
The rivalry between India and China is now increasingly likely to shift to the maritime domain particularly in the aftermath of China’s so-called “Maritime Silk Road” initiative. The Indian Navy has a commanding presence in the Indian Ocean region and China looks set to challenge the status quo. India currently is the only Asian navy to operate two aircraft carriers in the region and is also indigenously building another aircraft carrier. Meanwhile, the tri-services command in the Andaman and Nicobar islands allows India to maintain an eye over the sea-lanes of communication running into the Straits of Malacca.
In the South China Sea too, Beijing is already locked in maritime disputes with countries like Vietnam and the Philippines. Additionally, it has maritime disputes with Japan over the Japanese-held Senkaku Islands (which China claims as Diaoyu). A Chinese state-owned firm has taken over the operation of the Gwadar port in Pakistan, which in the future will allow China to circumvent the Straits of Malacca, China’s “Achilles Heel,” and bring oil supplies directly to China overland through Pakistan.
On the other hand, India and Japan started joint naval exercises in 2012 in addition to the regular coast-guard level exercises between the two. India organizes the Milan Biennial Series of exercises, which involve a host of navies in the region and beyond. Interestingly, India’s relations with Japan and Vietnam have incrementally improved in the time during which its relations with China have seen a rough phase.
SOME AREAS OF CONVERGENCE
China and India are cooperating under the rubric of the BCIM (Bangladesh, China, India, Myanmar) Economic Corridor. They are also working together under the umbrella of the BRICS where they have set up a $100 billion New Development Bank, also known as the BRICS bank. They have also joined hands in the field of climate change, especially in multilateral fora where they seek to avoid being pressured by the Western powers to agree to binding emission cuts.
INDIA’S POWER PLAY
Modi had visited Japan before Xi’s visit to India. Following this visit, Modi visited the United States to hold a summit meeting with President Barack Obama. The message will certainly not be lost on Beijing, especially as India-U.S. relations had nosedived in light of a series of differences over various issues. It is also welcome augury that Modi and President Obama seem to have put the past behind them.
The joint statement issued during Modi’s visit to Washington D.C. notes that the “the leaders expressed concern about rising tensions over maritime territorial disputes, and affirmed the importance of safeguarding maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation and over flight throughout the region, especially in the South China Sea.” This assumes significance in the light of China’s unilateral declaration of a new Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) leading to increased tensions in the region and China’s maritime spats with Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines.
During Xi’s visit to India, Beijing agreed to invest $20 billion in the next five years in India. This is less than what Japan has promised over the next five years ($35 billion). However, the issue of the huge trade deficit will continue to cloud ties between India and China as India’s trade deficit with China ballooned to $31.42 billion in 2013. Besides, the boundary issue shows no signs of resolution. Even during Xi’s visit, Chinese PLA soldiers and some “civilians” intruded into the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China. Given China’s chain of command, it is also highly unlikely that these intrusions could have taken place without the approval and the knowledge of President Xi Jinping. China has also not supported India’s desire for permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council.
Hence, it seems that although India and China will cooperate on the economic front, there are many issues that will ensure the political tensions between them continue to simmer.
Dr. Rupakjyoti Borah is an Assistant Professor of International Relations at the School of Liberal Studies, Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University, India. He has been a Visiting Fellow at the University of Cambridge (U.K.), the Japan Institute of International Affairs (Tokyo, Japan) and the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy at the Australian National University (Australia). The views expressed are his own. His Twitter handle is @rupakj.
More from Foreign Policy
Saudi-Iranian Détente Is a Wake-Up Call for America
The peace plan is a big deal—and it’s no accident that China brokered it.
The U.S.-Israel Relationship No Longer Makes Sense
If Israel and its supporters want the country to continue receiving U.S. largesse, they will need to come up with a new narrative.
Putin Is Trapped in the Sunk-Cost Fallacy of War
Moscow is grasping for meaning in a meaningless invasion.
How China’s Saudi-Iran Deal Can Serve U.S. Interests
And why there’s less to Beijing’s diplomatic breakthrough than meets the eye.