Chinese-Indian relations are worsening after reckless statements by the latter’s media and officials, proving that ties between the two Asian Great Powers are much shakier than either side publicly acknowledges and thus raising the risk that President Xi’s unconfirmed visit to the South Asian state next month might not happen at all if this worrying trend isn’t reversed.
CGTN opinion editor Huang Jiyuan published a thought-provoking piece earlier this week titled “Is this a turning point in India’s foreign policy towards China?“, which raised awareness about worsening Chinese-Indian relations as a result of the latter’s recklessness. The writer elaborated on how concerning it was that Indian Minister of External Affairs Jaishankar parroted Trumpian “trade war” talk about China’s economic practices while speaking at a conference in Singapore on Monday, questioning whether this should be interpreted as India reconsidering its commitment to reaching a deal for forming the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) between itself, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and the ASEAN states and concluding that “enough has happened already to raise the alarm on the possibility of a rockier China-India relationship.”
That’s a very insightful perspective that perfectly complements the author’s own recent piece for the same outlet about how “India is rapidly approaching a pivotal geopolitical moment“, which points out that the two main variables determining the future of Chinese-Indian relations are whether New Delhi continues to proceed with the RCEP negotiations and if it solicits Huawei’s world-class services for constructing its nationwide 5G network. It’s presently uncertain what India will ultimately decide, but judging by two recent media reports and the latest statement from its Ministry of External Affairs, ties between the two are shakier than ever and might even imperil President Xi’s unconfirmed trip to the South Asian state next month if they aren’t resolved before then because it might be inappropriate for the Chinese leader to visit his Indian counterpart in what could possibly become an increasingly tense context.
Indian media and a local politician from the ruling BJP alleged that the Chinese military secretly built a bridge in the part of South Tibet that New Delhi de-facto administers as its own and regards as “Arunachal Pradesh”, though this was denied by the Indian Army. Even so, it contributed to the creation of a toxic atmosphere in Indian-Chinese relations, one made even worse by a scandalous follow-up report purporting that China is financing anti-hydropower NGOs in that same disputed territory. On the topic of territorial disputes, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs also lashed out at China earlier this week for issuing a joint statement with Pakistan during Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s recent visit that condemned India’s unilateral actions in Kashmir and praised the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the flagship project of the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) whose transit through Pakistani territory that India claims as its own is why it refuses to join this global initiative.
Bearing these recent developments in mind, the conclusion reached in Huang Jiyuan’s latest op-ed that “enough has happened already to raise the alarm on the possibility of a rockier China-India relationship” is proven to be even more correct than the writer might have realized at the time of publication. India is indeed rapidly approaching a pivotal geopolitical moment, though all indications seem to worryingly suggest that it’s poised to position itself as the regional countervailing “balance” to China per the US’ “Indo-Pacific” strategy of using the South Asian state to “contain” the People’s Republic. Unless this trend is reversed within the coming weeks, President Xi’s unconfirmed trip to India might change from being a sequel to his and Modi’s famous 2018 Wuhan Summit and turn into a damage control mission instead, if not outright scrapped in response and thus representing the informal commencement of a new era of rivalry between the two.
By Andrew Korybko