Publication: China Brief Volume: 12 Issue: 24
December 14, 2012
By: Chietigj Bajpaee
Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru Meets Troops Near the Front in 1962
The recent unveiling of a new Chinese passport that contains a map marking territory disputed with India has emerged as a renewed source of tension between the two countries (Sina.com, November 25; Indian Express, November 24). While the passport issue is unlikely to be a lasting source of tension, the underlying source of friction—the Sino-Indian territorial dispute—remains alive and well. In the context of their overall bilateral relationship the strategic significance of the territorial dispute, however, is declining amid the rise of both countries as major regional and potentially global powers. This is revealing new theaters of interaction and potential competition.
The changing nature of the Sino-Indian relationship is made evident by the contrast of the current state of bilateral relations with their state during the month-long border conflict that took place 50 years ago. Future hostilities between both countries, however, are unlikely to be confined to their disputed border. Rather, with both countries acquiring more tools and platforms of interaction, renewed hostilities will likely spill over beyond the confines of their bilateral relationship with greater repercussions for the regional and global security architecture. Amid the growing strategic importance of trade and imported resources to fuel their economies, the most likely theaters of this “spillover” are both countries’ third-party relations and their growing interests in the maritime domain.
Beijing Leverages “All-Weather” Friends
The potential “spillover” is most evident in third-party relationships. Notably, China’s “all-weather” relationship with Pakistan has been complemented by deepening relations with other states around India’s periphery (Far Eastern Economic Review, October 2, 2009). These deepening relations have been evidenced in China emerging as a leading trade partner, source of diplomatic support and provider of military hardware to several countries in the region. More specifically, Chinese investment in several strategically important projects—ranging from port projects at Gwadar in Pakistan, Hambantota in Sri Lanka, and Sonadia Island in Bangladesh, a railway link between China and Nepal as well as an oil and gas pipeline from the Burmese port of Kyaukryu to Yunnan—has raised Indian fears that these projects could facilitate Chinese encirclement (Asia Times, September 29; April 23; Xinhua, September 10, 2010).