18 November 2018

The India-China Rivalry Heats Up in South Asia

As the India-China rivalry for influence in Asia grows, India has begun to take a bolder stance. In 2016, at Bhutan's request, Indian forces entered the disputed Doklam territory in Bhutan to keep Chinese forces from building a road there. As the most serious conflict between India and China in decades, the standoff represented a shift in New Delhi’s posture toward Beijing, signaling India’s resolve to act more forcefully to counter Chinese influence and activities in South Asia. 

New Delhi’s bold decision to confront Chinese troops at Doklam—an area near India’s so-called tri-border with China and Bhutan—surprised and angered Beijing. While India may have succeeded in standing up to China in the short run, Doklam pushed China-India tensions, problematic under the best of circumstances, into a new, tenser stage.

Any military confrontation would be devastating to both countries, but a deep and long-standing political rift would be equally unsettling given the strategic anxieties in play. Sustained, long-term hostility of any kind would be harmful for India, China and the region at large.

China Takes Rivalry With India to South Asia

The Doklam standoff followed years of Chinese encroachment into countries in India’s “backyard.” The China-India clash over regional geo-economics is now affecting Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh, which have sought more balanced relations with both India and China. At the heart of China’s regional policy is the objective of maintaining stability for its own domestic security and sustainable economic development. But India maintains the upper hand for now: In terms of foreign direct investment, in most of South Asia, India has invested significantly more than China. Both India and China will continue, however, to protect their gains and consolidate their influence as their financial and political commitments across the region grow, leading to continued tensions.

The India-China Rivalry Casts a Shadow On India’s Neighbors

Bangladesh is a good illustration of the challenges India faces in its rivalry with China. India’s relations with Bangladesh are in fairly good shape, and have improved significantly in recent years. The two countries have quietly pursued a series of energy deals that can potentially bring big benefits to both nations. Additionally, discussions have begun for an electricity-sharing mechanism between India, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal. But the biggest irritant in India-Bangladesh relations is China’s deepening inroads in Bangladesh. India hasn’t been able to stop China from deepening its footprint and influence in New Delhi’s backyard, from Pakistan to Sri Lanka and many places in between, leading to worries that it’s slowly being pinned down and encircled by China. 

Have China-India Ties Entered a Calmer Period?

One welcome recent development that shows promise in mitigating the India-China rivalry is the April 2018 summit between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Their meeting in Wuhan, China, appears to have succeeded in lowering tensions and creating space to improve ties. Beyond diplomatic engagements, New Delhi and Beijing have exercised greater care in how they’ve handled sensitive issues since the Doklam standoff, which has also lowered tensions. While the Wuhan summit led to a number of proposals for more cooperation and has already reduced China-India tensions, it was only the start of a process. Any new long-term rapprochement depends on whether this calm between India and China holds, and whether policies and actions reflect the positive tone set in Wuhan. 

No comments: