The Townhall

Under Modi, India Remains Wary of China

Under Modi, India remains wary of China

By Umer Beigh

Ever since Indian and Chinese soldiers clashed in Galwan Valley, authorities in India have curtailed issuing visas to Chinese nationals. The number of visas issued has declined, from 200,000 in 2019 to 2,000 in 2024. This hardline policy is a clear indication of a cautious approach amidst a tense relationship between the two nations.

Following his reappointment for the third consecutive time, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi asserted that his government will prioritize economic security. Modi said.

India’s national economic security cannot be compromised for a few pieces of silver…. Visas will be issued for Chinese technicians and businessmen only after screening with assurance that travel conditions will not be violated.

India is reportedly planning to rename 20 places in Tibet. This comes in response to deteriorating bilateral ties and an assertive response to the Chinese issuing official (Tibet and Chinese) names of 62 locations in the “contested” Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh.

For several years, the Sino-India relationship was a complicated affair. From the initial years of the camaraderie of Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai (Hindi-Chinese Brothers) in the 1950s, to the growing mistrust of China becoming “India’s number one enemy” in the 1960s.

The 1962 territorial border war over disputed Arunachal Pradesh—referred to as southern Tibet in China—was the turning point, which led to decades of strained relations between the two nations. Although a peace agreement was signed in 1971, the war left a lasting mark.

From congenial to conflictual, the shift in relationship resonated in public opinion and goods boycott in mainland India, with some even resorting to racial slurs “chinki-momo-corona” against those resembling Chinese heritage during the post-COVID-19 era. 

The war changed the course of bilateral ties for decades, giving rise to mistrust and a sense of betrayal between two nations which took many years of reconciliation to resume the cross-border trade. This process of rapprochement was again disrupted during India’s nuclear test in 1998. 

According to the political scientist Zhiqun Zhu, there are three folds of the “security dilemma” of India-China rivalry: (i) discrepancy in mentality and perception, (ii) the lack of mutual trust, and (iii) a close neighboring syndrome, which is pushing two massive Asian countries “to misinterpret economic activities as strategic competition”.

“The relationship between China and India has gone from bad to worse in recent years,” Shitao Li, the head of DW Chinese, remarked.

Border Tussle

In 2023, the economic ties between India and the US surpassed China with $118.4 billion in two-way commerce, according to GTRI estimates. This happens, as a Hindustan Times report pointed out President Xi Jinping’s regime’s continuing pressure on India on land and sea, which compels the Indian establishment to step back and ensure the economy is less dependent on China.

India is aiming to “catch up” with the rising global power China, even though its lack of resources restrains India from having that sphere of influence in the Indo-Pacific region—India complaints of facing surveillance ships in the Indian Ocean year-round from China.

The report mentions that “Chinese ballistic missile tracker Yuan Wang 7 was deployed 1,000 kilometers south of Kanyakumari and PLA Navy’s anti-piracy forces were deployed in Djibouti, Gulf of Aden and in the Madagascar channel”.

Several Indian experts including Harsh Pant have reiterated that

China’s various actions in recent years seem to have convinced Indian elites that China does not take Indian security concerns very seriously and does not recognize India as a major global player. 

In 2022, both China and India officially acknowledged witnessing violent clashes in January of that year. The tension at the disputed Line of Actual Borders (LAC) unnerved India so much that they intensified militarization and infrastructure buildup to station additional thousands of troops in the disputed western sector. 

Military confrontation

The protracted dispute over Himalayan Kashmir has increased the hostility of South Asia. Currently, there are over 700,000 troops stationed in Indian-administered Kashmir territory. In August 2019, when New Delhi unilaterally changed the autonomous status of the region, the amendments invoked resentment from China. 

China has never recognized the so-called union territory of Ladakh set up unilaterally and illegally by India.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said. The spokesperson went on to say that China seeks a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir dispute in accordance with the UN Charter, Security Council resolutions, and relevant bilateral agreements.

Nine months after downgrading Kashmir into two union territories, the standoff in Galwan Valley of Ladakh region in June 2020, rocked the entire region. The confrontation, despite the agreement signed in 1996, restricting China and India from using weapons and explosives near its borders, was so intense that at least 24 soldiers were killed from both sides.

Authors Waheguru Pal Singh Sidhu and Jing Dong Yuan writes that India and China have over 125,000 sq km of un-demarcated borders in three different sections, with no treaty ever formally delimiting the disputed boundary, in Ladakh province with Xinjiang and Tibet, the boundary between Tibet and India’s Arunachal Pradesh (formerly known as North-Eastern Frontier Agency) and the boundary between Tibet and India’s Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. 

Economic Ties

India has been trying hard to develop strong ties with Taiwan largely due to its interest in developing the semiconductor industry by creating an alternative for Apple. The other factor is the apparent fear of a trade deficit with China which crossed a record high of $100 billion in 2022 with a growth of 1.5%.  

This year, the trade deficit with China has crossed $38.11 billion in the first five months. India has exported goods worth $8.93 billion between January to May 2024, whereas China has imported goods worth $47 billion.

India emphasizes addressing the non-tariff barriers through increased bilateral engagements to improve its exports and bring in more Chinese investments while keeping the Chinese company’s military ties in perspective by restraining them from investing in so-called ‘sensitive’ regions.

At present, China stands as India’s third-largest trading partner with trade volumes exceeding $80 billion in 2022. Bilateral trade reached a record high of $136.2 billion in 2022. 

Amidst the economic cooperation and conflict, there exists a disdainful apprehension among Indian thinkers that China’s patronizing attitude and indifference to barely following developments happening in India, infuriates many Indians, according to political scientist Suan L. Shirk.

The economic models of India and China are often compared by orientalists including American historians such as Niall Fergusons with that of the “Hare and Tortoise” fable. The Chinese model, for pro-Westerners, may not be sustainable but India’s model arguably has greater potential due to its mature democratic credentials. 

Interestingly, what these detractors fail to emphasize is the consolidation of ‘fascist’ government in India, which founder and secretary general of India China Economic and Cultural Council Vijay Prashad posits has shifted away from the country’s focus, “Since PM Modi took power in 2014, there is a noticeable detachment from the BRICS agenda and related initiatives…”, he noted.  

Due to this apprehensiveness towards China and deteriorating strategic relations, the Modi government continues imposing many obstacles on Chinese companies to operate, making it difficult to get visas through rigorous three-fold scrutiny. Along with visa restrictions, Indian authorities have imposed a repeated ban on numerous popular apps, and have halted passenger flights between the two countries.

The rise of China has caused new challenges to emerge, especially for the US interests in the Indo-Pacific. The US has “found a complimentary and enabling partner in the form of the Modi government”. President Joe Biden is thus forging new and strengthening old allies in the Indian Ocean. America must build out its strategic focus in the region, especially if it foresees a future military conflict over Taiwan. “On China—India and the US—share, if not identical interests,” a nonresident senior fellow with Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center, Mark Linscott, noted

The US wants India’s alliance in the South China Sea to counter China, and China is pushing India for collaboration on Belt and Road Initiatives and other similar projects based in the Global South. India finds itself in a balanced fix amidst the ongoing border crisis and apprehension over securing its economic interest.


Todd Davis

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