India still nervous about China’s growing strength despite economic ties
Published: Jan 06, 2015 12:23 AM Updated: Jan 06, 2015 04:03 PM

2014 signified the opening of a new chapter of China-India relations. India held its 16th general elections, in which the Bharatiya Janata Party won an overwhelming majority of seats and its leader Narendra Modi was sworn in as Indian prime minister in May. Chinese President Xi Jinping made a historic state visit to India in mid-September and achieved a critical consensus with Modi on forging a closer development partnership by designing a development blueprint for the next five to 10 years.

But the two sides still have differences in understanding what a "closer development partnership" is and therefore should continue fostering strategic mutual trust.

During his India visit, Xi said that he expected to build a closer development partnership with India to deepen cooperation in both the regional and global spheres. "A closer partnership" does not mean replacing the "strategic and cooperative partnership for peace and prosperity" signed in a 2005 joint statement, but underlines that "development" will be a significant way to achieve "peace and prosperity."

Beijing has invited New Delhi to join the building of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, known as the "One Belt and One Road." China pledged to invest $20 billion in India in the next five years, establish Chinese industrial parks and participate in its infrastructure development. $20 billion represents a huge leap compared with the investment stock of $411 million during the past decade.

New Delhi welcomes Beijing's finance and the two sides have collaborated well in the BRICS Development Bank, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the high-speed railway project between Delhi to Chennai. Nonetheless, the Modi administration takes a rather different attitude toward China in strategy and security-related affairs.

A border standoff broke just two days before Xi's visit to India and the two countries have often seen confrontations since then. Meanwhile, the Indian government has adopted the "Act East" policy to replace the old "Look East" strategy. It not only engages in more proactive military cooperation with the US, Japan and Vietnam but also interferes in the South China Sea dispute in a high-profile way.

In addition, New Delhi has also strengthened its relations with countries across South Asia and along the Indian Ocean. It has become more vigilant against China's military actions in the Indian Ocean. New Delhi was perturbed over the docking of a Chinese submarine at Sri Lanka's Colombo harbor in November.

Instead of taking an explicit stance on Beijing's initiatives such as the "One Belt and One Road" initiative, New Delhi only expressed interest in studying the India-China-Bangladesh-Myanmar Economic Corridor. However, it welcomes Washington's Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor project in exchange of US and Japan's support for its Mekong-Ganga Cooperation project.

India's different attitudes toward China in strategy and economy show its mentality over the bilateral relations: It views China as its competitor in Indo-Pacific geopolitics though it longs to take advantage of the Asian powerhouse to boost its economy.

Moreover, New Delhi is deluded in its own position, thinking that it can play a role of a strategic lever in Asia and the world at large.

There is no denying that the lack of strategic mutual trust triggered by the border dispute still constitutes the biggest obstacle in China-India relations. But friendly negotiations and mutual understanding are the best way to address this conundrum.

2015 marks the 65th anniversary of the establishment of China-India diplomatic relations and the 60th anniversary of the convocation of the Bandung Conference. India offered China great support at the conference and the 10 Principles of Bandung was an extension of the existing Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence.

When China and India lack sufficient strategic mutual trust, forging a close personal relationship between top leaders will be conducive to the smooth development of the bilateral ties. Modi's likely future China visit will help him in further understanding China. In this way, the two emerging countries will probably turn into real partners with each other.

The author is a research fellow of Shanghai Institutes for International Studies and a visiting fellow of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn