Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

Taking the long view with China


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Foreign policy challenges India faces

The article explains the various choices India faces in the geopolitical landscape shaped by emergence of two Asian giants.

New challenges and hard choices on geopolitical front

  • As it moves to becoming the third largest economy in the world, India needs to have a clear-eyed world view and strategy as it makes hard choices.
  • It needs to reject the developing country regional mindset that has shaped India’s  national aims and foreign policy.
  • We have a “special and privileged strategic partnership” with Russia which provides more than three-quarter of India’s military equipment and a “comprehensive global strategic partnership” with the U.S.
  • India’s relationship with the U.S.-led Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), where the others are military allies, has rightly been cautious, as U.S. President Joe Biden sees China as a ‘strategic competitor’ rather than a ‘strategic rival’.
  • Realism dictates that India does not need to compromise on its strategic autonomy.
  • India faces two sides of the China conundrum: Defining engagement with its neighbour which is consolidating an expanding BRI while remaining involved with the strategic, security and technological concerns of the U.S.

China’s dominance in financial sphere

  • In the financial sphere, there is the real possibility of the Chinese renminbi becoming a global reserve currency or e-yuan becoming the digital payments currency.
  • China is the world’s largest trading economy.
  • It could soon become the world’s largest economy.
  • China has stitched together an investment agreement with the EU and with most of Asia.
  • Relative attractiveness will determine when the dollar goes the way of the sterling and the guilder.
  • China, facing technological sanctions from the U.S., may well put in the hard work to make this happen soon.

China: Partner, competitor, and economic rival

  • Some form of the EU’s China policy of seeing the emerging superpower as a partner, competitor, and economic rival depending on the policy area in question is going to be the global norm. 
  • This broad perspective is also reflected in India’s participation in both the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, designed to resist the spread of Western interests, and in the U.S.-led Quad, with its anti-China stance.
  • Within the United Nations, India’s interests have greater congruence with China’s interests rather than the U.S.’s and the EU’s.
  • Sharing the COVID-19 vaccine with other countries distinguishes India, and China, from the rest.

India’s engagement with the U.S.

  • The congruence between India and the U.S. lies in the U.S.’s declared strategic objective of promoting an integrated economic development model in the Indo-Pacific as a credible alternative to the BRI, but with a caveat.
  • Instead of an alternate development model, India should move the Quad towards supplementing the infrastructure push of the BRI in line with other strategic concerns in the region.
  • For example, developing their scientific, technological capacity and digital economy, based on India’s digital stack and financial resources of other Quad members, will resonate with Asia and Africa.

India’s role in global governance

  • Another area where India can play a ‘bridging role’ is global governance.
  • President Xi Jinping’s “community with shared future for mankind”, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “climate justice” and asking how long India will be excluded from the UN Security Council, challenge the frame of the liberal order without providing specific alternatives.
  • With respect to digital data, India has recently expressed that there must be reciprocity in data sharing, and this is the kind of ‘big idea’ for sharing prosperity that will gain traction with other countries.

India’s growing influence

  • India’s recent policies are gaining influence at the expense of China and the West, and both know this trend will accelerate.
  • The steps to a $5 trillion economy, shift to indigenous capital military equipment, and a new Science, Technology and Innovation Policy underline impact, capacity and interests.
  • ASEAN remains keen India re-join its trade pact to balance China.
  • It is being recognised that India’s software development prowess could shape a sustainable post-industrial state different to the U.S. and China model.

Consider the question “Examine how India’s foreing policy priorities and its role in global governance is shaped by China’s rise.”


As in the historical past, Asia is big enough for both Asian giants to have complementary roles, share prosperity and be independent of each other and of the West.


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