India Measures Itself Against a China That Doesn’t Notice

While China is often eager to measure its development against the West, India frequently fixates on its own progress relative to China, according to The New York Times. Following a series of major corruption scandals, some in India wonder whether China’s rulers may be more disciplined than their own (in The Economist’s words) “vibrant, but messy, democracy”.

Indian newspapers are filled with articles comparing the two countries. Indian executives refer to China as a template for development. Government officials cite Beijing, variously as a threat, partner or role model.

But if keeping up with the Wangs is India’s economic motive force, the rivalry seems to be largely one-sided.

“Indians are obsessed with China, but the Chinese are paying too little attention to India,” said Minxin Pei, an economist who was born in China and who writes a monthly column for The Indian Express, a national daily newspaper. (No Indian economists are known to have a regular column in mainland Chinese publications.) […]

Evidence of the Indo-Sino interest disparity can be seen in the two countries’ leading newspapers. The People’s Daily, the Chinese Communist Party’s house organ, had only 24 articles mentioning India on its English-language Web site in the first seven months of this year, according to the Factiva database. By contrast, The Times of India, the country’s largest circulation English-language newspaper, had 57 articles mentioning China — in July alone.

The security sphere is one in which Beijing does take a keen interest in India, however. This was brought to the fore by reports of a face-off between the two countries’ navies in the South China Sea in late July. From The Wall Street Journal:

The geopolitical chess game intensifies as Chinese and Indian navies show off their flags in the Indian and Pacific oceans with greater frequency. India, for one, is wary of leaving its trade and energy supply routes in the Pacific Ocean to the goodwill of China’s navy.

India’s total trade volume with East Asian economies now exceeds that with the European Union or the United States, while more than half of India’s trade now goes through the Malacca and Singapore Straits. This economic reality drives strategy. As part of its “Look East” strategy, India has concluded over a dozen defense cooperation agreements over the last decade with Southeast and East Asian countries.

In particular, the Indian Navy places energy security and sea-lane protection as priorities. In December 2006, then-Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Sureesh Mehta expanded the conceptual construct of India’s “greater strategic neighborhood” to include potential sources of oil and gas imports located across the globe—from Venezuela to the Sakhalin Islands ….

Beijing is plainly uncomfortable with the prospect of India’s rise. It has derided U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s calls to India, made most recently in Chennai this year, to play a greater role in East Asia. The Chinese took umbrage at the 2010 “Quadrennial Defense Review,” published by the Pentagon, which described India “as a net provider of security in the Indian Ocean and beyond.” Much to China’s chagrin, India’s naval activism has encouraged countries ranging from South Korea and Japan to Vietnam and Indonesia to “view India as a possible counterweight to future China in Southeast Asia.”

The article goes on to stress the importance of effective crisis prevention protocols between India and China to prevent inadvertent escalation of hostilities. The Sydney Morning Herald recently covered China’s reluctance to put such protocols in place with the US (via CDT).

The Diplomat also reported on the South China Sea incident, noting measures by the Indian army to prepare for possible future conflict:

The question for the Singh government is how to respond to an increasingly assertive China. This wouldn’t be the first time that tensions have flared in the past couple of years and comes as India has announced plans for the formation of a new strike corps aimed specifically at being able to hit targets inside China in the event of conflict breaking out.

The formation of the new strike corps has been under consideration for the last two years, but has only now been confirmed. According to Trefor Moss, writing here last week, it’s reported that it will focus on the eastern end of the contested border to bolster India’s defence of Arunachal Pradesh (what China calls Southern Tibet), as do the two new mountain divisions numbering 35,000 troops that the Indian Army has already raised. These are based in Nagaland and Assam, just south of the disputed province. However, the strike corps will consist of a further 40,000 troops, and its presence will significantly alter the Himalayan dynamic, with Indian forces in the region previously adopting a more defensive posture.

Sources:

India Measures Itself Against a China That Doesn’t Notice – NYTimes.com
The new middle classes rise up – The Economist
Asia’s Great Naval Rivalry – WSJ.com
India, China Navies Face-Off – Indian Decade – The Diplomat