May 15, 2013, by Editor

Rising India: A Chinese Strategic Perspective

Written by Anil Kumar.

The term rising India is a buzzword in IR discourse nowadays. Until recently, the world used to hyphenate India with Pakistan. However, with the steady rise of India’s national power, it has started re-hyphenating with its historical match, China. So as the world has discarded the prism through which it used to see India, it is interesting to investigate the Chinese strategic perspective of rising India given the fact that it had written off India as a strategic adversary by the early 1990s.

Origin of Rising India

For Chinese security planners, India’s national power has begun to rise steadily since 1998. India, led by a new nationalist government in Delhi, unleashed a slew of path-breaking initiatives  in quick succession in 1998 (and beyond). These measures can be classified under three domains, namely, military, economic and diplomatic.

Military: India’s military clout has risen steadily ever since it conducted nuclear tests in May 1998. India has emerged as the largest weapons importing country during 2006-11 as per the SIPRI report. Its current defence budget has risen to $46.8 billion which is the seventh-largest globally. Last year, it signed a deal for 126 new advanced fighters, at a cost of $ 10.4 billion, with France. From the US, it acquired defence equipment worth $8 billion and has additionally awarded defense contracts worth $9 billion to its companies. It has conducted many joint military exercises and exchanges with the US military over the last six years, and recently both sides expressed desire to strengthen defense cooperation through increased technology transfers. Also India plans to spend  $200 billion USD over the next 15 years for the modernization of its military.

Economic: In New Delhi the BJP is acting on its slogan of ‘prosperous and powerful country’, backing up military measures with economic initiatives. It signed an FTA with ASEAN in 2003 that came into effect in 2010, deepened economic ties with both the USA and China, encouraged private entrepreneurship, and boosted physical infrastructure. Its New Telecom policy of 2003 led to a telecommunications revolution in the country. Consequently India, since 2003,  has been one of the fastest-growing major economies, leading to rapid increases in per capita income, demand and integration with the global economy. It grew at an average rate of 8.7%  for the five years prior to the global financial crisis. India even outpaced China as per the IMF’s 2010 report when it grew by 10.4% whereas China grew by 10.3%.

Diplomatic: Beijing has been anxiously observing India’s omni-aligned diplomacy as opposed to non-alignment. It has two pillars, namely, improving relations with the US and Look East Policy-II. India-US ties started improving with President Clinton’s visit to Delhi in 2000. However, it was President Bush who transformed this relationship with the signing of an Indo-US civilian nuclear deal in 2008 thus ending India’s nuclear apartheid. Under Obama their ties have matured. In 2010 both countries initiated an annual Strategic Dialogue. India was described as the linchpin in the US’ pivot to Asia strategy unveiled in Jan 2012. The strategic partnership between the two, in Beijing’s view, is the revival of the anti-China alliance in South Asia seen during the Cold War– the only difference being that the US has replaced the USSR.

India’s Look East Policy, unveiled in 1992, entered its second phase with the first-ever India-ASEAN summit in 2002. It meant two things, broadening the scope of ‘East’ by including Japan, South Korea and Australia, and adding a strategic dimension. Indo-Japan ties became a major highlight of this phase when both signed a security pact in 2008 and increased naval cooperation. Japan and South Korea played a key role in India’s membership to the East Asia Summit (EAS) in 2005. India-Australia ties have also improved and Canberra even agreed to sell uranium to Delhi in 2011.

China’s response strategy

Beijing’s regional policy is based on preventing the rise of a peer competitor in Asia. So how does China deal with a rising India? I argue that China has developed a four-pronged strategy to manage the rise of India. Importantly, all the four components of this strategy are in place simultaneously.

Carrot and stick policy to sabotage growing Indo-US ties: As a carrot, China has initiated a diplomatic offensive since 2000. Li Peng in January 2001, Premier Zhu Rongji in January 2002, Premier Wen Jiabao in April 2005, President Hu Jintao in Nov 2006, Premier Wen again in Dec 2010 and defence minister Liang Guanglie in Sep 2012 have all visited India. Interestingly, each of these visits has followed a high-profile US visit to India. China has also deepened trade with India and holds a Strategic Economic Dialogue. As a stick, China keeps reminding India of its deep economic engagement with the US and their common views on global security issues like non-proliferation and terrorism, which it warns, can harm India’s interests. It continues to protract the resolution of the border dispute so as to use it as a lever to put strategic pressure on New Delhi whenever it wants. The intrusion of a Chinese platoon into the Indian territory on April 15 this year is a case in point.

Deepen ‘entente cordiale’ with Pakistan: China has intensified it defence ties with Pakistan recently. In a strategic tit-for-tat in response to the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal, Chinese companies in June 2010 signed a contract in Shanghai in relation to two 650-megawatt Chashma-3 and Chashma-4 reactors, in addition to a 2004 deal under which China supplied Chashma-1 and Chashma-2 to Pakistan. In April 2008 China promised Pakistan it would provide financial support for purchasing a Chinese 250 JF-17 Thunder jet fighter fleet and F-22 frigates. It has invested $30 billion in PoK. Beijing recently secured operational control of strategically located Gwadar port in the Arabian sea.

Military encirclement of India: China has intensified the military encirclement of India. It completed the Golmund-Lhasa railway in 2006, thereby dramatically reducing the troop deployment time on Indian borders. It completed its fifth airfield in Tibet in October 2010. Beijing has deployed state-of-the-art medium and intermediate range missiles with nuclear warheads in Tibet. It has already been constructing seaports around India in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan under the “string of pearls” strategy. The latest “pearl” in this string includes a base on the Seychelles completed in December 2011. It plans to station three aircraft carriers, one each in South China Sea, Western Pacific and Indian Ocean by 2017.

Keep India out of global and regional institutions: China remains non-committal and sometimes even obstructs India’s entry into important global and regional institutions despite its rhetoric of acknowledging India’s “great power” ambitions. China is the only P-5 nation that has not given its explicit nod to India’s candidature to the UN Security Council. China prevented India’s entry into the EAS in 2005. Though China invited India to the SCO as an observer in 2006, it did so only along with Pakistan. It tried to obstruct the NSG waiver to India in 2008 until President Bush had to personally intervene. It does not hold talks on nuclear issues with India as that will legitimize India’s de facto nuclear status. Similarly, India had secured full support from the US, Japan, and Vietnam among others to gain entry into APEC, but its inclusion was halted by Chinese reluctance at the 2007 summit to lift the moratorium on new members.

The multi-pronged strategy is to ensure that China continues to remain the only tiger on the mountain of the Asian continent.

Anil Kumar is a PhD candidate in the Department of East Asian Studies, Delhi University.

Posted in China-India