India's Growing Antagonism Towards China as Viewed by SIIS Analyst Liu Zongyi
"For the next 10 years at least, India will continue to pursue pro-US policies and will continue to adopt a primarily confrontational approach towards China, with cooperation as a secondary priority."
Today’s edition of Sinification takes a look at Sino-Indian relations from the perspective of one of China’s better-known India specialists – Liu Zongyi (刘宗义). Liu is a researcher at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (SIIS) – one of China’s top think tanks.
The excerpts provided below come from two different sources: the first, an edited transcript of a speech made by Liu during an event organised by Renmin University’s Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies on 3 January; the second, an interview with Liu conducted by Guancha.cn following China’s most recent border clash with India last month.
Liu’s main arguments:
India-China ties will be defined by confrontation and competition in the short, medium and possibly long term.
New Delhi’s relations with Beijing are currently influenced by two main factors: the United States and Hindu nationalism.
India is in a battle with China for regional and global influence.
India is out to replace China as the “world’s factory”.
Potential areas of cooperation between New Delhi and Beijing are dwindling.
India's Indo-Pacific strategy is increasingly in line with the US’s own strategy in the region. Both seek to contain China.
On the recent border clash:
Dynamics within the Indian army are to blame for this incident, not India’s leadership.
India needs China to support its hosting of the next G20 summit in September and is therefore seeking to “stabilise” relations with Beijing.
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I. On Sino-Indian relations and India’s Indo-Pacific strategy (speech)
Liu Zongyi: “Today, I will share with you a few simple observations on India's policy towards China and its Indo-Pacific strategy. This will consist of three main points:”
I. New Delhi’s ‘Rising Great Power Strategy’ and US-India relations
“As part of India's ‘Rising Great Power Strategy’ [‘大国崛起战略’], the Indo-Pacific Strategy is an extension and development of India's already established foreign strategy … India's ‘Rising Great Power Strategy’ includes political, economic, military, diplomatic and a number of other aspects.”
“On the political front, it promotes ‘national reconstruction’ [国族再造] and ‘national [i.e. social] integration’ [国家整合]. This is mainly done through the use of Hindu nationalism, stirring up public sentiment in order to gain votes. This [in turn] has very strong spillover effects. The 'China threat' is also a commonly used argument.”
“On the economic front, [the aim is to] develop ‘Made in India’ in order to take over China’s place in global supply chains.”
“On the military front, [the aim is to]:
Target China when advancing the modernisation and integration of [India’s] three armed forces as well as the development of [its] arms production;
Accelerate the construction of infrastructure in [India’s] border areas as well as on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands;
Build military bases in small Indian Ocean states to ensure [India’s] dominance in the Indian Ocean region.”
“Whether from a domestic or diplomatic perspective, India has defined China as an 'adversary' or 'enemy' [印度都将中国锁定为'对手’或者‘敌人’].”
“During the Trump administration, India's Indo-Pacific Strategy differed quite substantially from the US’s Indo-Pacific Strategy in three main ways:
First, in terms of its geographical coverage. India's version of the Indo-Pacific Strategy focused on [everything from] the east coast of Africa to the west coast of the Americas.
Second, India wanted its Indo-Pacific strategy to be underpinned by economic and financial cooperation mechanisms to counter China's Belt and Road Initiative.
Finally, India wanted to maintain [its] strategic autonomy through multilateral cooperation and did not want to act as a pawn for the US in its containment of China.”
“Since Biden came power, and following the US’s concessions in terms of geographical scope, the two main differences [between Washington and New Delhi] have already disappeared: India, Israel, the UAE and the US have established the I2U2 group and the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework was launched. Thus, the US and India’s Indo-Pacific strategies are increasingly converging.”
II. What does India's Indo-Pacific Strategy aim to achieve?
“First, India's Indo-Pacific strategy is in line with the US’s core objectives of hedging against the Belt and Road Initiative and keeping China in check. [This is to] prevent the emergence of a so-called 'China-led' regional order and achieve a 'multipolar Asia’ and a ‘multipolar world'.”
“Thus, the biggest divide between India and China is no longer related to border issues. In fact, border issues have now been instrumentalised. For the Indians, the biggest issue between India and China is the battle for the regional and global order. It is a geopolitical conflict because India is a country that places a lot of emphasis on the idea of spheres of influence.
“Now, the US will be building a new Indo-Pacific security network around China, with India playing a very important role in this process. A key part of the security network that the US is putting together are trilateral mechanisms that bring together into a network the countries that used to work bilaterally on an axis-spoke basis. Now, the US + Japan, India + Japan and India + Australia have established a 2+2 mechanism [involving the foreign and defence ministers from each country], [they have taken part together in] the Malabar naval exercises and formed the US-Japan-India-Australia ‘Quadrilateral Security Dialogue’. India is also actively involved in trilateral activities such as those between the US, Japan and India as well as between Japan, Australia and India.”
“Second, economic objectives … India has initiated and participated in the IPEF (Indo-Pacific Economic Framework) because it believes that the IPEF is a strategic move to target and contain China. It is the economic pillar of [its] Indo-Pacific Strategy.”
“India hopes to use the Indo-Pacific Strategy to secure its interests in the Indian Ocean region. In cooperating with the US, Japan, Australia, Britain, France and other countries to contain China and lock it up through rule- and standard-setting [规锁中国], its objective of pushing supply chains to shift to India, in order to achieve India's economic take-off and rise as a great power, is already clear.”
III. Sino-Indian relations: Prospects
“I believe that India-China [relations] are likely to be mainly confrontational and competitive over the coming decade. India's foreign policy is clearly opportunistic. The US and India have strengthened their strategic cooperation and coordination against China under the framework of their Indo-Pacific Strategies.”
“Sino-Indian relations are currently influenced by two main factors: one is the US’s policy of exerting pressure on China; the other is India's political and economic domestic agenda of Hindu nationalism.”
“India's elite strategists believe that over the next ten years the US will remain the most powerful country in the world and that China has no chance of becoming the dominant power in Asia due to opposition from the US, the West, India and Japan. [They also believe that] India will never accept China as the leading power in Asia.”
“For the next ten years at least, India will continue to pursue pro-US policies and will continue to adopt a primarily confrontational approach towards China, with cooperation as a secondary priority. Now, there are fewer and fewer areas of cooperation between India and China. India has already become an obstructionist within BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. India will continue to use the US and the West to exert pressure on China and force it to give way on border-related issues.”
“Not long ago, Modi took the initiative to shake hands with President Xi during the G20 summit in Bali. I believe this act was motivated by two main considerations: one, [Modi] had his eyes on the 2023 G20 and SCO summits; and two, the current heavy confrontation between both countries along their [disputed] border is, from India’s perspective, using up too many resources. India is hoping to transfer [some of these] resources to the Indian Ocean and obstruct China from there.
“In 2024, India will have a general election. The China issue is likely to be hyped up again in order to attract votes. Therefore, the prospects for improved Sino-Indian relations are not good.”
2. On China’s recent border clash with India (interview)
Interviewer: The Indian army has been frequently provoking [us] in the Dongzhang area. From what you know, what countermeasures have we been taking?
Liu Zongyi: “The Dongzhang area is located on the eastern part of the Sino-Indian border. Even according to the unlawful 'McMahon Line', this area belongs to the Chinese side. The Indian army has always adopted an 'encroachment policy' [蚕食政策] in these border regions, constantly seizing strategic high points to set up outposts, encroaching on our land and stirring up trouble there.”
“In response to the Indian army's ‘encroachment policy', the main measures that have been carried out locally [by the Chinese] are, amongst other things, boosting the construction of infrastructure, strengthening patrols and gradually removing the stone walls erected by the Indian army. In the past, some of these areas did not have roads and were relatively hard to get to and isolated. This provided the Indian army with an opportunity of which to take advantage. That is why we are now constantly improving the infrastructure in these areas.”
Interviewer: Is there a possibility that the Indian frontline troops in that area will continue to provoke [us]?
Liu Zongyi: “The Indians recently conducted military exercises with the United States less than 50 kilometres from the Line of Actual Control in our border area. Moreover, such military exercises give the impression of moving towards actual combat. This has, to some extent, boosted the Indian side’s morale.”
“Under such circumstances, because of India's military system and the incentive mechanisms within its army, frontline commanders have relatively extensive powers, and frontline troops are encouraged to keep moving forward and keep encroaching on Chinese territory. If they encroach on even more Chinese territory or win a so-called victory during a clash with China, it is a good opportunity for them to distinguish themselves and be rewarded.”
Interviewer: So, is the community of strategists in India in tune with the frontline forces on these border issues? With the changing international landscape, how is India's community of strategists currently thinking about and charting [the future of] Sino-Indian relations?
Liu Zongyi: “From my rather rudimentary observations, it is probable that this incident was mainly provoked by Indian frontline officers and soldiers who are more inclined to adopt such a strategy of proactive provocation … Because from what I have observed of the Indian leadership, Modi’s government has been hoping for a warming of Sino-Indian relations since the latter part of this year [i.e. the second half of 2022].”
“Modi's government is hoping to gain China's support and get its leaders to come to India to take part in the G20 summit. That is why Modi took the initiative to shake hands and exchange courtesies with President Xi during the recent G20 summit in Bali.”
“Ultimately, the G20 summit cannot be a success without China's active participation. Even though the West lavishes praise on India and even though India presents itself as the so-called poster child of developing countries and the leader of the South, it will most certainly not succeed without China's support.”
“In this context, my sense is that the Indian leadership wants to stabilise Sino-Indian relations and then host a successful G20 summit.”
“Following this [recent border] clash, although it was first reported by the Indian media, India's leadership, especially people like Defence Minister Singh, made statements indicating that they wanted to keep this matter low-key and resolve it through diplomatic channels, rather than carry on with the provocations.”
“Of course, if the provocations were to continue, the Chinese army will definitely leave them with their heads cracked and bleeding [中国军队肯定会让他们碰个头破血流 – This is an expression that has been used by Xi Jinping, see clip below]. The attempt by the Indian army, with the covert support of a ‘certain’ country's military intelligence system, to launch a surprise attack and occupy the southern shore of Lake Bangong [also known as Pangong Tso] following the Galwan conflict will definitely never reoccur.”