Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Balancing Chinese Regional Unipolarity

By Sanat ValechaPublished November 9, 2014

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India has strengthened economic and military ties with Far Eastern nations to create a balancing force against growing Chinese power in Asia.
By Sanat Valecha, 11/09/14

India's relationship with its larger neighbor China has been rocky for much of the postwar period.  Although the two fledgling states were nominally allied after World War II, particularly during India's more socialist days under its first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, the Sino-Indian War in 1962 firmly established the two proud nations as rivals.  As both countries have seen rapid development in recent decades, their economic rivalry has become as salient as their military rivalry.  There have been attempts at cooperation in both these areas, with friendly rhetoric coming from both sides along with minor business deals and joint counterterrorism military exercises.  However, repeated and intensified skirmishes along the expansive and disputed Sino-Indian border threaten any progress the two great nations have made.  India's actions in terms of strengthening relations with other Far Eastern states, such as Vietnam and Japan, are indicative of attempts to form of a sort of pan-Asian counterbalance against China.

In the eastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, a territory China claims as South Tibet, the Indian Army stopped China's People's Liberation Army from building a road on the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC).  Incursions on both sides of the LAC have been rising, some leading to face-offs and exchanges of fire like those in the northern Indian region of Ladakh last month.  Earlier this month, Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval stated at the Munich Security Conference that while India was willing to use any opportunity to develop relations with China, it would not compromise on its territorial integrity and sovereignty.  This illustrates that while economic cooperation is important to the two states, their military rivalry takes precedence and truly defines Sino-Indian relations.

India's revitalized relationship with the Far East points to the formation of an Asian counterbalancing alliance against growing Chinese power and aggression in the region.  Since the election of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister, India has strengthened its relations with Japan.  Modi has had friendly relations with Japanese officials since he was Chief Minister of Gujarat.  In an official visit to Tokyo almost two months ago, he finalized deals that aim to double Japanese foreign direct investment in India in five years and made significant progress on a civilian nuclear cooperation deal.  Furthermore, Modi covertly decried Chinese expansionism in East Asia, firmly placing Indian support with Japan in the Senkaku Islands dispute.  The bilateral talks between India and Japan have elevated their ties to a "special strategic and global partnership."

While India has been developing stronger economic ties with Japan, it has united with Vietnam militarily.  Given China's increasing assertiveness in the region, particularly in the oil-rich South China Sea, India and Vietnam have developed a military partnership that better equips Vietnam to protect its naval sovereignty.  Last year, the Indian Navy began a submarine training program for Vietnamese sailors.  Furthermore, India is transferring four naval offshore patrol vessels to Vietnam under a $100 million credit line.  The two states' defense cooperation extended this year to training the Vietnamese Air Force to fly Sukhoi fighter jets.  Indian economic and military might, though inferior to China's, is being supplemented by India's Far Eastern allies to create a balancing force to check China's growing power.

Both countries have expressed a desire to cooperate in the future; however, tensions remain unsettled.  The Indian government has done well to seek out other regional powers wary of China's hegemonic assertiveness and strengthen their bilateral relations.  As China's power continues to grow, an allied Asian bloc will play a significant role in keeping it in check.