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Sino-Indian relations likely to remain complicated

By Qian Feng Source:Global Times Published: 2017/5/16 21:33:39

Illustration: Peter C. Espina/GT

The 8th Heads of Mission Conference was held recently in New Delhi. As the conference lasted for four days and 120 Indian ambassadors and senior diplomats all over the world were called back, it attracted a lot of attention. The meeting is not only a meaningful platform for communication between decision-makers at home and "commanders" at the diplomatic battlefront, but also an important regular meeting to study and deliberate on national foreign policy, as well as being a significant window for the international community to observe India's diplomacy.

Since Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power, India has won the favor of some Western countries, partly by virtue of its unique geographical position, huge market and strong economic momentum. In this context, its international and regional influence has increased significantly.

Based on this meeting, we can tell that the Modi administration will not greatly adjust the current diplomatic strategy, which could be generalized as going beyond the regional vision and pursuing great power status; striking a diplomatic balance among big powers but giving top priority to the US; creating peripheral security while putting its focus mainly on China and Pakistan; developing more partners and prioritizing Japan and Australia; and promoting Indian products.

Since his overwhelming victory in 2014, with his highly controversial nationalistic personality and drastic style of action, Modi has substantially subverted the stereotypical impression among outsiders that Indian politicians are overcautious and lacking in initiative.

Diplomacy has always been a reflection and continuation of domestic politics. According to the Indian media, when Modi has talked about India's major diplomatic goals in the future, in addition to calling for better performance in emerging markets and strengthening India's security in terms of relations with neighboring countries, he has also said that India should not only become one of the providers of the international security architecture, but also take a leadership role in it. "Provider" means more advocacy and initiation, while "leadership" has significant subtle ambition. Although it is a long-term and difficult task for India, whose influence is currently limited to the South Asian Sub-Continent and the Northern Indian Ocean region, it is still a bold and ambitious vision.

However, in terms of realizing the vision, there is no clear road map for India currently, because it's still hard for the country to extend its influence from its own surrounding areas. It is also hard to tell whether India can play a "leadership" role for these related countries. These countries are more likely to want to find a balance between India and other big powers.

Under the leadership of Modi, India may seek to establish closer relationships with the US, Japan, Australia and other countries so that it can play a more important role than before. And by joining international organizations such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, India wants to gain more international influence.

However, in the process of becoming a leading force in the international security arena, finding out how to better handle relations with Pakistan, China and other neighboring countries will be a major challenge for India. China and India are both big Asian powers, and they have experienced a simultaneous rise. At present, India's foreign policy is a continuation of Modi and his team's political ambition and self-confidence, while also showing India's longing for great power status. 

This is both an opportunity and a challenge for China in its relations with India, which have experienced a series of setbacks and disturbances recently. For a long period of time in the future, working out how to get along well with an ambitious but sensitive neighbor, as well as finding out how to efficiently cooperate with this friend and reduce mutual contradictions and disputes will be worthy of consideration for China.

The author is an executive director with the Chinese Association for South Asian Studies.


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