The Delicate Dance Of India, China, And The U.S. To Balance Their Geopolitical Ambitions

The Delicate Dance Of India, China, And The U.S. To Balance Their Geopolitical Ambitions

The article serves as a primer on China, India, and the United States' geopolitical ambitions in Asia.

Anjali Krishnan
Anjali Krishnan

It's a year since China brutally attacked its biggest rival in Asia – India. As the world watched the two established nuclear powers with trepidation, the two nations deescalated, but the contentious issues remain unsolved.

With the Indian Diaspora spread worldwide, news of the country does make headlines around the world. A TIPP Poll conducted in March 2021, months after the border skirmish, found that 36% of the survey participants disapproved of China's handling of the border situation with India. Only one-fifth, 20%, approved the Communist regimes' response to the border issue, while 28% said they were not familiar with the matter and 15% were undecided.

India- Its Land, People, And Economy

The seventh-largest country by land area, India is spread across a peninsula, hemmed in by the Himalayas to the north, the Indian Ocean to the south, the Arabian Sea to the southwest, and the Bay of Bengal to the southeast. The islands of Lakshadweep in the Arabian Sea and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal make up its land territory. New Delhi is the nation's capital and the Indian Rupee its currency.

A multiparty constitutional republic, India is the largest democracy in the world and shares land borders with six nations – Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Tibet (now autonomous region of China).

People

One of the cradles of civilization, the Indian subcontinent, was home to the Indus Valley civilization. Since then, people of various descents have inhabited the peninsula.  The Mughals and the British have ruled the region. India's non-violent struggle to attain freedom from the Imperialist British continues to inspire the oppressed around the world.

Today, India is a vast and diverse country with many ethnicities, cultures, religions, and languages. 'Unity in diversity is a slogan often used to describe the ethos of the nation.

Indians have enjoyed trade and cultural interactions with various cultures and civilizations throughout history. Unlike China's insular culture, such dealings have molded the country with a more inclusive and receptive sensibility.

By spearheading the Non-Aligned Movement and holding pivotal roles in various international organizations such as the SAARC, BRICS, QUAD, and ADB, India has earned the cooperation and goodwill of many countries on the world stage.

Economy

India, a mixed economy, is estimated to be the fifth-largest economy globally, showing a growth of 6-7% annually. Before the pandemic, Indian exports were worth around $323 billion.While almost half the export went to other Asian countries, nearly one-fifth were to North America. The U.S., UAE, and China were the top three trading partners by the value of trade.

Indians make up the second-largest digital consumer base globally, and its digital economy is estimated to be around US$200 bn. A vast market base, liberalized economy, and progressively relaxed FDI norms make it a desirable market for business and investments.

Sino-Indian Relations

India got its independence from the British in 1947, and the Republic of China was established in 1949. The two countries did not share a border until the Communist regime annexed Tibet, a de facto independent state, in 1951. Since then, the 2,200-mile border spread over the mighty Himalayas has been a subject of rivaling claims, diplomatic tension, and numerous transgressions.

Both countries have improved connectivity to the region, setting up military outposts and patrolling the border. These activities have often raised tensions and once culminated in a brief war in 1962. Despite the war, the border between the two countries has yet to be demarcated.

Source: Yale Global

Notwithstanding the heightened hostility and aggravated mutual distrust, the nations had held back from fatal encounters – until May 2020, when the Chinese military attacked Indian soldiers in the Galwan Valley. The bloody, brutal conflict resulted in casualties on both sides. The uneasy truce that had prevailed, as well as the tenuous faith in the confidence-building measures put in place since 1962, had been shattered.

Growth of the Republics

For the past fifty years, India and China co-existed and focused on building their economies and defense capabilities. India pursued economic cooperation and vigilantly opened up its markets, while China, the one-party state, stuck to its Communist roots and forged ahead.

Despite the almost equitable start, today, China has overtaken India in nearly every sphere. The Chinese economy is the second-largest in the world, while India is in the fifth position. China's GDP was 4.78 times greater than India's in 2019.

Chinese expenditure on defense was US$178billion while India spends US$70 billion. There is probably only one sector where the Chinese felt they lagged behind India – the navy.

Bilateral trade between the nations has flourished regardless of diplomatic standoffs and border scuffles. Trade between the two was valued at around $77.67 billion in the last year. In the past few years, India has been taking measures to reduce the trade imbalance and its dependence on Chinese imports.

On The Economic Front

Unlike in other Asian and Southeast Asian countries, China does not significantly influence the Indian economy. The government uses auto brands like Volvo and M.G., currently owned by Chinese companies, and electronic brands like Xiaomi and Oppo to access the Indian market.

Beijing's investment in India is mainly in the startup sphere that has a longish gestation period. Much of China's investment in the country goes through Hong Kong, Mauritius, and Singapore, therefore does not fall under the category of "Chinese investments."

India is a valuable and massive market for Chinese goods, especially electronics. China-made Smartphones enjoy a 72% share of the Indian markets. The reliance on Chinese venture capital, electronic goods, and the widespread use of Chinese apps demonstrate that Beijing's finance and tools are an inextricable part of the Indian tech ecosystem.

The Indian government has resorted to banning Chinese apps and certain electronics goods like routers while also excluding companies like Huawei from its 5G spectrum to ensure the foreign regime does not exploit its citizens' data.

China no longer sees India as a competitor but as a future potential rival. Beijing is likely to exert political, economic, diplomatic, and military pressure to ensure that India does not prosper sufficiently to threaten its hegemonic plans.

On The Battle Front

Political pundits have put forward many theories behind China's shocking attack in the Galwan Valley. Seen in the larger context of the Communist regimes other political, diplomatic, and defense moves on the global stage, the clash on the Indian border could signal that China now has "political will" to flex its military muscle.

India's outright refusal to join or support the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and its observations that the Chinese flagship project does not provide a level playing field for all parties has immensely irked Beijing. India has repeatedly raised concerns over a portion of BRI, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which passes through Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir.

The recent encounter sends a message to other Asian countries, like Bhutan and Nepal, that India is no longer a strong presence in Asia. China further established that it does not feel threatened by the growing relationship between the U.S and India.

While demonstrating its superior military strength, Beijing would also be keen to divert India's defense spending from its navy, where the country might still be lacking in might.

Indo-U.S Relations

According to the State Department, "The U.S.-India partnership is founded on a shared commitment to freedom, democratic principles, equal treatment of all citizens, human rights, and the rule of law. The United States and India have shared interests in promoting global security, stability, and economic prosperity through trade, investment, and connectivity."

Relations between the two nations have seen considerable advancement since the dawn of the millennium. The bilateral civil nuclear cooperation agreement, initiatives to boost trade, investments in the energy sector, and Joint Working Group on Civil Space Cooperation are some of the salient achievements.

America views India as a strategic geopolitical partner in Asia. The U.S administrations have looked upon democratic India as a counterweight to Communist China's ambitions in South East Asia and the Indian Ocean region.

The U.S. and India prioritize maritime security, humanitarian assistance/disaster relief, and counterterrorism efforts on the defense front. By backing India's bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council, America sent a clear signal to China. Working together on cybersecurity, referring to India as 'major defense partner,' signing the intelligence-sharing agreement, and collaborating on India's space research, the U.S. has thrown its weight behind the world’s largest democracy to counterbalance Chinese efforts to dominate Asia.

As China grows in strength and will to tyrannize its neighbors and exert its supremacy in the region, nations are banking on the strategic cooperation between the U.S. and India to prevent a disastrous shifting of the world order.


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