Written by Minxin Pei
May 9, 2015
May 9, 2015
The conventional wisdom is that China and India, two fast-growing giants, are trapped in a zero-sum strategic rivalry. China, which was Asia’s dominant power for centuries, wants to reassert its hegemony and regards a powerful India as an obstacle to its ambitions. India, a victim of Western colonialism, sees itself as South Asia’s undisputed regional leader and views any attempt by China to establish its primacy in Asia as a threat to its national security and economic interests.
As with most conventional wisdoms, the perception that India and China are strategic rivals has substantial factual basis. Indeed, China and India have been engaged in delicate geopolitical manoeuvring to balance each other. China has given substantial economic and military aid to Pakistan, India’s nemesis, to check Indian power. In addition, Beijing has been energetically wooing Southeast Asian countries through trade and investment to gain “first mover” advantage in a region of enormous strategic value to both India and China.
In response, India has moved closer to the United States, which regards India as a natural strategic partner in maintaining Asia’s balance of power. The burgeoning US-India relationship has greatly strengthened New Delhi’s bargaining position vis-à-vis Beijing. At the same time, India has also become more active in East and Southeast Asia. India-Japan relations have greatly improved in recent years. On the maritime disputes in the South China Sea, India has taken a bold stance that essentially rejects Beijing’s claims. This has won Delhi friends in Southeast Asia, even though it has infuriated China.