China’s profession of friendship with India is suspected to be a tactical move in the wider strategic game of China’s rise as an East Asian and Pacific power, argues this paper.
Commentators have generally assumed that the Obama Administration’s wrong-footedness over Modi’s US visa, along with the latter’s pragmatic approach to Chinese investment in Gujarat, signal a new tilt by the BJP away from the United States and towards China. Neville Maxwell, for instance, writing in the Times of India, urges India to seize the opportunity offered by Modi’s election to achieve a border breakthrough with China, while Liu Zongyi, of the Shanghai Institute of International Studies, hashailed Modi as ‘India’s Nixon’ and characterised his pragmatic approach to the conduct of business and foreign relations as ‘very close to Chinese practices’.
India would certainly favour a thaw in relations with China so that it can get on with the urgent tasks of infrastructure development and the economic uplift of its people, including with Chinese investment, in an otherwise less-than-vigorous international investment climate.
If we take a long-term view, however, we can discern a number of wildcards that may complicate relations between India and China.
- Pakistan would benefit economically from a rapprochement with India but the Kashmir issue will continue to be a key stumbling block. It may thus be very difficult for Islamabad to “sell” the benefits of a better relationship with India to the Pakistani public.
- Despite concerns over extremism potentially emanating from Pakistan, China is unlikely to abandon Islamabad and will continue its economic, nuclear and military support for Pakistan while also seeking to cultivate India.
- While the Modi Government will seek to boost India’s economic and, possibly, political, relationship with China, Sino-Indian relations will continue to be ambiguous and, at times, troubled.
- Although it will not be easy, given India’s longstanding sense of strategic independence, New Delhi will work to maintain the US-India relationship.