IPCS Discussion

China-India Rivalry in the Globalisation Era

25 Jan, 2018    ·   5427

Report of the discussion on ‘China-India Rivalry in the Globalisation Era’ held on 20 January 2017

Opening Remarks by the Chair
Amb (Retd) Salman Haidar

Patron, IPCS,& Former Foreign Secretary of India

In the past, the China-India relationship has been characterised by partnership rather than rivalry. Today, however, both countries are mostly seen as competitors. This perception is especially prevalent in India. Currently, the Doklam crisis features in the Indian mind-set as the manifestation of Chinese belligerence. This not only has an impact on bilateral relations but also in relation to other neighbouring countries. In reality, the entire spectrum of relations between India and China is not in fact characterised by rivalry. It is more appropriate thus to analyse the various aspects of their relationship. In some aspects, both countries have competing interests; in other situations, interests do converge. 

China-India Rivalry in the Globalisation Era
Professor TV Paul

James McGill Professor of International Relations, McGill University, Canada

India and China have a relationship shaped by both competition and convergence, depending on the aspect one looks at. While New Delhi and Beijing compete with each other for influence in, for example, South East Asia and Africa, both countries also have converging interests when it comes to trade. Trade is one of the factors that sets the India-China relationship apart from the more fraught relationship between India and Pakistan. Whereas Pakistan refuses to engage India economically until the territorial differences are addressed, New Delhi and Beijing have side-lined the territorial issues for increased trade. Increased economic interdependence has helped soften the friction between both countries, clearing the path for more cooperation as compared to the India-Pakistan relationship.

On the other hand, despite globalisation, the rivalry between India and China persists. An important aspect of this friction is the status competition both countries are engaged in and will continue to engage in. This competition for prestige has an international but also an often-neglected domestic component. In both aspects, China has had a distinct advantage over India. While at birth both countries started off as equals, this changed in the 1962 war when China achieved a decisive victory over India. Ever since, China has been dominant in the competition for status and recognition.

Internationally, Beijing’s most recent tool is the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Although in private even Chinese scholars are concerned about the economic merit of the project, the country is using history and the civilisational discourse of restoring the silk road to gain global prominence. In Southeast Asia, local culture and language have a strong connection toIndian civilisation. Despite these cultural linkages, India has not engaged the region based on a civilisational narrative. China, on the other hand, has consistently promoted Chinese culture in the region. Thus, while local conditions favour India, Chinese foreign policy has been much more potent. China also has a clear vision of what a Chinese-led international order looks like. If India wants to compete with China, it needs to develop its own conception of a world order with Indian characteristics.

Domestically, there is also a clear advantage for China. 30 years of economic growth in both countries has only led to visible improvements in quality of life in China. For example, in areas like infrastructure, inequality and poverty, India still has a long way to go. These domestic parameters are often neglected but have a great impact on how others perceive India, which has an impact on the country’s status in the world. For example, despite India’s democratic credentials, issues like poverty and inequality still dominates US liberal perception of the country.

China is winning the battle for prestige and is set to replace the US as the global hegemon. After the Cold War, China’s plan was to play an important role in a multipolar world order. Today, Beijing has grown more confident and envisions a global order with Chinese characteristics. While in the long-term, China intends to become the predominant global power, in the short-term, it will attempt to consolidate its influence in the Asia-Pacific and the Indian Ocean.

This is where Chinese and Indian interests collide. In order to safeguard its influence in the Indian Ocean, India is forming strategic partnerships with the US and Japan. While Beijing is not worried about competition with India, it is this closer alignment between the three regional powers that has the potential of upsetting Beijing. Despite this, how equipped the US is to deal with China in the region is up for debate. President Obama’s policy towards China was a failure and President Trump is investing resources in nuclear weapons that will be unable to play a decisive role in the potential limited wars of the future. Because of its Afghanistan policy, Washington is unlikely to fully disconnect from Pakistan, something that could possibly obstruct closer India-US ties.

Rappourteured by Pieter Jan-Dockx, Research Intern, IPCS