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Navigating The New Norm: China's Assertiveness And India's Response Reshaping Asian Geopolitics – IMPRI Impact And Policy Research Institute

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Navigating the New Norm: China's Assertiveness and India's Response Reshaping Asian Geopolitics

On India’s part, it has stood up to the China challenge on several fronts.

At the 2024 iteration of Raisina Dialogue, Asia’s premier conference on geopolitics, China featured prominently in the discussions, given that there has been a tense standoff at the border between the Indian and Chinese armies for nearly four years. The clashes between the two armies in Galwan in 2020, which resulted in fatalities of on both sides, is an important turning point in the relations between the two Asian powers.

Foreign minister S Jaishankar deconstructed China’s approach in dealing with India. He said that while China tried to change the status quo at the border in the process violating the agreements to which it is a signatory, it was trying to stymie India’s bid to get a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. The minister alluded to China deploying mind games to resolve border issues with India, but that the breakthrough would come about only if other powers were kept at bay. Underlining India’s response to these developments, Jaishankar stated that India would not let a competitor curtail its policy choices, and that his government would look to make use of the international system for the best outcome.

No constituency for peace with China

The Indian government has termed relations between the two nations as “abnormal” and also pinned the breakdown of trust between the two nations on China’s aggressive action at the border. The reason for such a pessimistic assessment of the ties between the two nations is that the clashes in Galwan have been followed by China trying to change the status quo on the ground at different points along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

In addition to the military coercion, China has resorted to mind games, which Jaishankar alluded to. China unilaterally renamed towns in Arunachal Pradesh, to which it lays claims. It also publicised a map recently showing large parts of Indian territory as part of China.

The cartographic onslaught is also backed by a massive build-up of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers along the border, and China creating enormous infrastructure—both civilian and military—to improve the staying power of its military. Twenty-one rounds of talks between the two militaries that have been conducted has led to resolution at some friction points, but overall troop deployment remains a cause for concern.

On India’s part, it has stood up to the China challenge on several fronts. First, it has matched China’s troop deployment at the border, there has also been a fillip to the development of infrastructure facilities at the border. Second, India has taking the lead in banning cellphone apps on national security grounds, and there has been curbs on infusion on Chinese capital and investment into India.

The government’s approach has received public approbation. ORF’s Foreign Policy survey 2023 found out that an overwhelming 83% of the respondents interviewed in urban India gave a thumbs-up to India’s foreign policy. There is little constituency for peace with China since nearly 80% of those surveyed cite China’s aggression at the border being responsible for the trust deficit.

More so, because many of these respondents see India’s seat at the UN Security Council (that China has sought to block) as a key priority. On the bright side, more than three-fourths of the respondents see India’s G20 Presidency and the Quad as appropriate fora to pursue India’s interests, with the same number putting great store in Australia, Japan, and the US (Quad members) as leading partners in the near future.

Leveraging the international system

Thus, faced with the China challenge, India has crafted a foreign policy that seeks greater engagement with the world. A case in point is India’s G20 presidency under which more than 100 countries were invited to a ‘Voice of Global South’ summit, taking up issues of food and energy security, fast-tracking reforms of global financial to seek better representation to developing nations. The other central piece of this proactive foreign policy was India’s increasing engagement with the Quad, which Jaishankar described as India’s riposte to those who seek to veto her policy choices.

Speaking at the Quad Think Tank Forum on Feb 24, the minister highlighted nascent capacity-building initiatives that were helping policy-makers in the Indo-Pacific region better evaluate infrastructure projects on viability and sustainability criterion. Such efforts underscore Quad’s commitment to the region reeling from the impact of China’s debt-trap diplomacy in the wake of the Belt and Road Initiative.

At the same time, China’s belligerence through different means continues unabated. An important aspect of China’s aggression and expansionism has been the deployment of grey-zone warfare, in which a nation uses strategies to pursue its aims, but that may not invoke a strong military response from the other side. For example, China has built ‘xiaokang’ villages near the Indian border in a bid to bolster its territorial claims, and now there are reports that these are being populated with settlers.

During the Raisina conclave, India’s Chief of Defence Staff Anil Chauhan drew attention to China’s use of such strategies to hobble rivals. If the 2010s put strains on India-China ties due to land-based incursions, then the coming decades may see increased strife in the maritime and cyberspace spheres as well.

While China considers the South China Sea as its lake, it has stated that the Indian Ocean is not India’s ocean. There have been reports of Chinese research vessels trawling the Indian ocean to collate and build a repository of data, which may give its submarines an edge in navigating in this region.

The Indian establishment will also have to be alert to increased efforts by Chinese state and non-state actors who will try to infiltrate the cybersecurity domain to steal data that may have national security ramifications. It’s a turbulent road ahead for Sino-Indian ties.

Harsh V. Pant is a Professor of International Relations at King’s College London and vice-president for studies at ORF.
Kalpit A Mankikar is a Fellow with Strategic Studies programme at ORF.

The article was first published in Financial Express as ‘Is turbulent the new normal? Presently, China’s assertiveness and India’s responses shape Asian geopolitics‘ on March 2, 2024.

Disclaimer: All views expressed in the article belong solely to the author and not necessarily to the organisation.

Read more at IMPRI: MPCE Data: Aesthetic Appeal with Substantial Insights

Acknowledgement: This article is posted by Mansi Garg , a researcher at IMPRI.

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