Is India-China Rivalry Moving to Indo-Pacific?

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After the visit of the military research ship “Yuan Wang 5” of the People’s Republic of China to Sri Lanka, India-China relations began to deteriorate beyond repair. Finally, New Delhi accused Beijing of “militarizing the Taiwan Strait.” India, which is currently experiencing border tensions with China and therefore does not get involved in Taiwan-related issues, has made such a statement for the first time, openly criticizing China’s military presence in the seas.[1] The most important reason for this is the recent arrival of the Chinese military research ship, which directly threatens India’s national security, in Sri Lanka.

In this incident in July 2022, New Delhi put pressure on Sri Lanka to prevent this visit, which threatened its national interests in the southern seas but could not prevent it. At this point, India has raised its voice against China on the issue of the security of the Indo-Pacific region, which the US has long wanted to attract. Because the Chinese ship visiting Sri Lanka is equipped with large radar systems to conduct space exploration and is thought to have the capacity to monitor India’s military bases. On the other hand, China claimed that the ship was conducting scientific research. In short, India suspected that the Chinese ship was watching its military bases.

Similar tensions are experienced in the Ladakh border region. In this context, China agrees to withdraw 20 km due to negotiations with India after entering 40 km from the border. As a result, it gains 20 km of land.[2] Feeling surrounded by the Indian Ocean after its northern border, New Delhi felt obliged to warn about the “Chinese threat” in the Indo-Pacific. India would not have made such a statement if it had not interested her. However, when she saw that the “Chinese threat” had reached the Indian Ocean, she had to do this. The situation has been an indication that the India-China rivalry has begun to spread from land to sea.

In the background of this tension in the seas lies India’s failure to express its commitment to the “One China” principle after the tensions regarding Taiwan; because India has not confirmed its commitment to this principle in the eyes of the world public for many years. However, after the visit of Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, many European states, including the G-7 and ASEAN countries, and even the US, reiterated their commitment to the “one China” principle. Beijing then asked New Delhi to reaffirm its commitment to the ‘one China’ principle.[3] Beijing expected a statement in this direction from India in the first days of the visit, but New Delhi remained silent during this process.

Due to India objection to confirm its commitment to the “one China” principle, the Beijing administration began to think that the neighborhood’s security was under threat. As India remained silent on this issue, China sought “ultimacy” in it. But New Delhi has many reasons to remain silent. At the beginning of this is the border disputes with China. India should not be expected to support the “one China” principle while the Beijing administration claims Indian territory, for example, Arunachal Pradesh.

In short, there is mistrust between the two countries regarding respect for their territorial integrity and sovereignty. Suppose China renounces its claims on disputed territories such as Kashmir, Ladakh, and Arunachal Pradesh and gives some assurances in this regard in return. In that case, India can make peace with China and reaffirm its adherence to its principles.

In a statement on 18 August 2022, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said that relations with China are at a “challenging stage” and that there are “many reasons” for the two countries to work together.[4] Responding to the comments, the Beijing Government said, “We hope India decides to work in the same direction as us to get relations back on track at an ‘early date.’” found in the statement.[5] Based on these words, India needs to “correct itself” in bilateral relations. Because this statement says, “I hope they will work in the same direction as us and cooperate.” However, India claims that China acts aggressively at the border. As a result, the two countries have a trust problem arising from the border issue.

India, in general, has a reactive approach to China. New Delhi refuses to cooperate with Beijing in Central Asia and the Indo-Pacific. For example, the two countries have developed competing projects in the maritime economy corridors stretching from the Indian Ocean to the West. While China put forward the Blue Economy Corridor, which forms the sea leg of the Belt-Road Project, India focused on developing the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor with Japan. Sri Lanka a strategic stop-and-replenishment point at the center of the economic rivalry at sea. As the political and economic competition in this country gradually evolved into military dimensions, India started to take an open front against China on the seas.

In military-security exercises in the Indo-Pacific and missions performed for maritime security, India has refrained from approaching China’s near seas and, in this context, has generally refused to conduct exercises with the US and its allies in the South and the East China Sea. For example, in this process, while India participated in the “Pitch Black 22” air exercise hosted by Australia, it did not participate in the “Pacific Vanguard 2022” naval exercises hosted by the US in Guam. This is because it does not want to provoke Beijing by engaging in military activities in regions close to China.

In general, India takes care only to participate in exercises in the near seas, in other words, in the Indian Ocean, and maneuvers in the far seas, in the Pacific or Oceania. Although India participated in Russia’s Vostok-2022 exercises, it did not participate in the naval divisions in the Sea of Japan. The reason for this was interpreted as observing the sensitivity of its ally in QUAD, Tokyo. However, the real reason may be that India does not want to have such a presence with China and its immediate seas. In this context, India may have conveyed to Russia that it does not wish to participate in the sections where China takes part in the military exercises.

Similarly, China may have opposed India’s participation in exercises in the Sea of Japan. In other words, China does not want to invite India to its near seas. On the other hand, Beijing can send a research vessel to the near seas of India. This situation causes China to carry its tension with India to the Indo-Pacific. From this point on, if India becomes more involved in the affairs of China’s near seas, for example, if it starts operating in and around the Taiwan Strait, there is a high probability that the conflict between the two countries will carry over to the seas.

[1] “India Accuses China of ‘Militarisation of The Taiwan Strait’ As Row Over Navy Vessel Grows”, The Guardian,, (Date of Accession: 01.09.2022).

[2] “Chinese Assault on India Remains Relentless”, Tribüne India,, (Date of Accession: 01.09.2022).

[3] “Beijing Asks New Delhi to Reiterate ‘One China’ Principle”, Bloomberg,, (Date of Accession: 01.09.2022).

[4] “China Calls for India to Work ‘In Same Direction’ To Restore Ties”, The Hindu,, (Date of Accession: 01.09.2022).

[5] Ibid.

Dr. Cenk TAMER
Dr. Cenk Tamer, 2014 yılında Sakarya Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nden mezun olmuştur. Aynı yıl Gazi Üniversitesi Ortadoğu ve Afrika Çalışmaları Bilim Dalı’nda yüksek lisans eğitimine başlamıştır. 2016 yılında “1990 Sonrası İran’ın Irak Politikası” başlıklı teziyle master eğitimini tamamlayan Tamer, 2017 yılında ANKASAM’da Araştırma Asistanı olarak göreve başlamış ve aynı yıl Gazi Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Doktora Programı’na kabul edilmiştir. Uzmanlık alanları İran, Mezhepler, Tasavvuf, Mehdilik, Kimlik Siyaseti ve Asya-Pasifik olan ve iyi derecede İngilizce bilen Tamer, Gazi Üniversitesindeki doktora eğitimini “Sosyal İnşacılık Teorisi ve Güvenlikleştirme Yaklaşımı Çerçevesinde İran İslam Cumhuriyeti’nde Kimlik İnşası Süreci ve Mehdilik” adlı tez çalışmasıyla 2022 yılında tamamlamıştır. Şu anda ise ANKASAM’da Asya-Pasifik Uzmanı olarak görev almaktadır.