In May of 2015, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid a visit to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s home town of Xi’an (西安) in Shaanxi Province ( 陕西省). After the initial lavish welcoming of the Indian head of state, the heads of the two largest regional powers in the Southeastern Asian theatre began talking about the interests of their individual countries. However, where Xi and Modi differ are in their perceptions of future Sino-Indian relations. While Modi seeks to create a mutual partnership between the two nations, China’s recent actions have shown that it has little to no interest in a long-term friendship with India
Breaking this attitude down, China clearly appreciates the economic importance of India, however its contempt for its South Asian neighbor appears to stem from the rapid progress China has made militarily (China even failed to include India as a potential threat on its most recent white paper on defense- a report outlining the threat levels of countries in the area). In the naval theatre, China has been progressively making further and further forays into the Indian Ocean, an area where the Indian navy has traditionally had control over. Chinese authorities are even contemplating opening a naval base in Djibouti, thus allowing for the growth of naval dominance in the area. As far as land and air forces go, China has been patrolling its Tibetan border with India more frequently in recent years. Roughly 20 squadrons of military-grade planes, including H-6 bombers, are equipped with long range missiles and tasked with keeping an eye on the Indian border. Such a strong presence would allow for a quick deployment time from the Chinese should the two nations ever clash militarily. Finally, China’s growing ties with Pakistan, a traditional Indian enemy, have given the Indian government cause for concern should there ever be any regional conflict. China’s $45 billion dollar investment in the Chinese-Pakistani economic corridor (a system of oil lines and roads connecting China’s Xinjiang province and Pakistan’s Gwadar port) would provide the infrastructure and economic reliance that would prove crucial in a joint offense of itself and Pakistan against India. This corridor would especially serve to provoke India as it is set to cross the Indian portion of the contested Kashmiri region.
Is China correct in writing off India’s weaker military, though? Diplomatically, India has a better standing than China both domestically and abroad. With the navies of nations such as Japan, the United States, and Australia supporting it, India does not require the same degree of self-reliance that the largely isolated China must maintain. Additionally, India’s economy is set to continue strong upwards growth in the face of China’s own lagging economy (India’s economy is set to grow by 8.5% this year compared to China’s 7%). This is due in part to China’s lagging work force, a consequence of its One Child Policy, as well as India’s smaller reliance on its industry (30% compared to China’s 49%) meaning that it has more room to expand in the industrial realm. If India chose to invest a greater amount of its budget into the military, it very well might challenge China’s superiority.
So, while China certainly has reason to feel confident in its strength to defend the Sino-Indian border, it would be foolish for it to write off India as a low level threat. China may have won its last border war with India in the 60’s, but it’s been almost 50 years since and India is no longer the weak neighbor that it once was.