India’s Endless Competition with China

This article tries to explain and describe contemporary Indian-Chinese competition.


Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) and Chinese President Xi Jinping wave to journalists. (Photo courtesy of Quartz)

Understanding international relations requires empathy to relate theory and history.

Using this benchmark, this article tries to explain and describe contemporary Indian-Chinese competition. Three defining features of this competition include the status of Tibet, border disputes, and bilateral trade.

New Delhi is charting a new foreign policy orientation. It is attempting to draw new lines of engagement with US President Donald Trump and Narendra Modi’s historic trip to Israel in July marked the first visit by an Indian PM. These bold steps may challenge India’s relationship with China.

In May 2017, New Delhi snubbed Beijing for supporting the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor by boycotting the Belt and Road Initiative. Later in June, India (and Pakistan) became full members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s summit. Since 2016, India has launched surgical strikes on suspected militants in Kashmir, a disputed region between India, Pakistan and China. Much to the chagrin of Beijing and Islamabad, New Delhi does not be view the land as disputed or occupied, but as an integral part of India.

The use of hard power does not necessarily result in intimidation and threats.

China has been able to validate its diplomatic finesse. Beijing demonstrates how soft power resources are interchangeable at a time when world is bearing the anxiety of a possible roll back of globalization. As one of the world’s fastest growing economies, China is witnessing a tremendous international transformation.

South Asia seems to be moving towards an uncertain future. While Beijing may not worry much about New Delhi, India has reason to be concerned. Pakistan remains interlocked in the  Indian-Chinese relationship. China also uses domestic strife in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh as a deterrent for any peaceful Indian initiative in the region. Moreover, the status of Tibet, the military deadlock in a state in northeastern India known as Sikkim, as well as nuclear proliferation are other areas where China seeks to exert its influence.

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In 2014, China was India’s largest trading partner. The trade terms favored China at India’s expense. China restricted Indian investments in areas where India had a comparative advantage. The include delaying to resolve border disputes, not taking Chinese incursions seriously, and gaps in trade and investment challenge the sincerity of trading ties.

China’s gaps and shortcoming with India have underscored the bilateral relationship.

In addition, China aims to subvert India’s ties with Japan for technology and foreign direct investment. When interests are involved, it is difficult to adhere to international norms. Chinese Ambassador Luo Zhaohui’s statement that the onus is on India to resolve a military standoff in Doka La is a provocation to expose Indian vulnerabilities.

It is worrisome that both nations are descending into potential conflict. Beijing may be revisionist, but it has transformed its lexicon from an economic powerhouse to a confident world leader. Sadly, India has remained vague in this regard.

The United States is reneging on its global commitments as seen in NAFTA and the Paris Agreement. Washington is emerging as an unreliable partner, evident by President Trump’s unpredictable administration. Meanwhile, China seeks to entice developing countries by offering an attractive “Beijing consensus” – friendship and alliance with a liberal economy and an authoritarian regime with no strings attached.

India and China have always competed for status and influence in Asia. In this asymmetric conflict, China is fanning global ambitions while India seeks to pivot to America.

New Delhi must specify the terms of engagement with China. Failing in this regard would present a blurred image of India to an international audience.

Watch this excerpt on Indian-Chinese clashes along the Sikkim region

Amna Mirza, PhD, is Assistant Professor of Political Science at University of Delhi. Read other articles by Amna.