By: Abhyuday Saraswat, Research Analyst, GSDN
As two of the largest countries in the world, China and India have long been recognised as significant players in the global geopolitical arena. However, in recent years, tensions between the two countries have escalated, leading many to question whether China poses a threat to India. The factors that contribute to this relationship are complex.
Border and Depsang Plain Issue
One of the main issues that has strained the relationship between China and India in recent years is the border dispute between the two countries. The border between India and China is one of the longest in the world, spanning over 4,000 kilometres, and has been a source of tension for decades. Since 1962, the two countries have had a prolonged history of disputed territory. Since then, there have been several skirmishes and standoffs between the two countries, and tensions have remained high. The Depsang Plains, a 972-square-kilometre area at an elevation of over 16,400 feet, continue to be a key source of friction amid the current tensions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) following the Galwan Valley incident in 2020, with India stepping up its defence and the Chinese expanding their presence in the region. The conflict in Depsang Plain, which is crucial to India both strategically and geographically, predates the present LAC issue. The Depsang Plains are significant because of their position. The eastern Ladakh region, which is also a part of India’s Sub-Sector North, poses the biggest military and strategic danger to the plains.
The Depsang Plains are more of a defensive feature than a strategically important attacking location.
Another factor that contributes to the strained relationship between China and India is their competition for regional dominance. Both countries are seeking to expand their influence in the region, and this has led to a series of diplomatic and economic tussles.
China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a massive infrastructure project that aims to connect Asia, Europe, and Africa, has been viewed with suspicion by India, which sees it as an attempt by China to gain strategic leverage in the region. India’s sovereignty is directly threatened by the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which reaches Pakistan-occupied Kashmir through Gilgit Baltistan’s Karakoram Highway. Not only this, but also in Myanmar, China, under its BRI, has invested to build the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor with strategic infrastructure projects such as roads, railways, and ports that will connect Kunming, China’s Yunnan Province’s capital, to Mandalay and then to Yangon and Kyaukphyu in Rakhine State. Projects like the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway and theKaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project aim to enhance connectivity and trade links between India’s north-eastern region and Southeast Asian countries and tackle the Chinese sphere of influence.
India’s own efforts to expand its influence in the region, such as its Act East Policy, have been met with resistance from China. India has also expanded the domain of its policy to include Pacific Island countries, where China has strategic interests. Act East policy also emphasises enhancing trade and investment ties between India and Southeast Asian countries where China is investing under its BRI. Efforts are being made to promote trade through initiatives like the India-ASEAN Free Trade Agreementand theRegional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.
Economic ties and trade
Despite these tensions, there are also significant economic ties between China and India. China is India’s largest trading partner, and the two countries have significant economic interdependence. India and China have been major trading partners for several years. Bilateral trade between the two countries has grown significantly, reaching a peak of around $92.68 billion in 2020. Although there have been calls for a boycott of Chinese goods and products in India. Moreover, to counter the Chinese manufacturers, the Make in India initiative was taken, which has seen an overwhelming response, in which not only appliances or small products are being made but also the air defence system “Akash”, the light combat aircraft “Tejas,” and the INS Kalvari.
However, there has been a trade imbalance heavily favouring China, with India importing more goods than it exports. The trade deficit has been a persistent concern for India, as it has negatively affected domestic industries. The bilateral commerce between China and India increased by 90.14%, or 12.87% per year on average.
The total value of commerce with China rose by 8.47% annually in 2022 to reach USD 136.26 billion. However, this economic relationship has also been a source of tension, with India accusing China of engaging in unfair trade practises and dumping cheap goods in the Indian market.
Collaborations and Initiatives
Despite the tensions, India and China have continued to engage in various collaborative initiatives. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), a multilateral development bank initiated by China, has seen participation from both India and China. Additionally, the BRICS(Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) forum has provided a platform for discussions on economic cooperation among member countries. G-20 and SCO presidency by India, where China and India are heavy backers of the groupings. But China’s actions of boycotting the meetings of the G-20 held in Kashmir do show the true nature of their hypocrisy, where they are occupying Aksai-Chin, which is a part of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.
So, does China pose a threat to India? The answer is complicated and depends on how one defines “threat.” While there are certainly tensions between the two countries, it is unlikely that China poses an existential threat to India. Both countries are nuclear powers, and a war between them would have catastrophic consequences for the entire region. Furthermore, both countries have demonstrated a willingness to engage in diplomacy and negotiation to resolve their differences.
But there are certainly areas where China’s actions could be viewed as threatening India’s interests. China’s growing influence in the region, particularly through the Belt and Road Initiative, could pose a challenge to India’s own efforts to expand its influence. Similarly, China’s military modernization and growing naval presence in the Indian Ocean could be viewed as a potential threat to India’s security. Ultimately, the relationship between China and India is complex and multifaceted, and any analysis of whether China poses a threat to India must take into account the various factors that contribute to this relationship.
The relationship between China and India is complicated, marked by both cooperation and competition. While tensions between the two countries have escalated since the 1962 Sino-India War, it is unlikely that China will pose an existential threat to India in recent times. However, there are certainly areas where China’s actions could be viewed as threatening to India’s interests, and it is important for both countries to engage in diplomacy and negotiation to resolve their differences and build a stable and peaceful relationship. And if that is not suitable, then in that case of action, India needs to maintain an aggressive and protective stand regarding its territory and policy towards China.