China and India – the battle for regional hegemony?

11 May

A Chinese newspaper, the People’s Daily, has released a positive editorial on the relationship between the neighbours. It claims they are turning a new corner with “new features in the relationship”.

However their association has been a very rocky road in the past, especially with the relationships that each powerhouse has formed either inside or outside of their region. For example, China is very sceptical of India’s ties with the West, especially the US, as China feels that the US is trying to encircle China with a host of Western allies in its region. On the other hand, India is very cynical over China’s bond with Pakistan, which occupies the contested lands of Kashmir.

Another large area of contention is the so-called “string of pearls” that China has created (military bases strategically placed along the Indian ocean which happens to coincide with India’s oil shipping lanes).

Despite predecessor, Jintao, stating that the Chinese are using their bases to forge “new diplomatic relationships” and to create a “harmonious ocean”, India has felt threatened by Chinese military presence within their immediate region. These “sea lines of communication” have not only caused friction with India but also with the US, who has a large stake in maintaining oil shipping lanes and a large military presence in the region.

But, with 2012 being hailed as the least problematic year in the history of China- Indian relations, it seemed that the border issues had been resolved, or at least quietened down for the time being.

Chinese-Indian relations have improved bilaterally predominantly over trade, with China (if you include Hong Kong) now becoming India’s largest trading partner, with $76 billion exchanged between the two countries in 2012. These economic and political ties could improve even further with new deals being made at the G-20, with an increase in rice exported from India to China. More agreements like this will certainly help to improve the relationship. Furthermore, the two countries are in collaboration with one another in many political and economic groups such as the BRICs, the G8 +5 and the East Asian Community bloc.

However, some fear that other tensions may arise as the two emerging powers may be battling for hegemony within the region, as John Mearsheimer states there can only be one regional hegemon and thus the two great powers will be battling for this position.



Can India realistically challenge China’s regional dominance?

Economically – Although economically India still lags far behind China and will take a very long time to match the highly- industrialized economies, however the Economist predicts that India’s economic growth will soon overtake that of China’s. It is claimed that by 2025 India’s population may in fact overtake that of China’s, whose one child policy has lead to an ageing population causing many social problems. India, on the other hand, has a very young population with 64% of the population of working age this obviously stands India in good stead economically with a large reserve force of labour which allows for low labour costs, which in turn is very attractive to FDI.

Politically – India’s democracy is resilient and transparent, and nationalist ideas do not seem to pose a challenge to the international order as they do in China. India, through its cooperation within international institutions and the leading of political groups such as the G20, has proved that it is willing to become a stakeholder in the existing liberal order and to play by the rules rather than to promote alternative institutions in order to advance specific Indian values. Thus Wagner has predicted that it is only a matter of time before India’s big rise as it will use the new global institutions to defend its national interests rather than to remain a representative of the developing world.

Mr Xi wrote in a letter recently that China “will, as it has been doing, pay great importance to developing relations with India and expects to carry out close cooperation with India to create a brighter future of their bilateral relations.”

The new administration therefore looked as though they were in a good position to keep up this beneficial relationship. However recent events show that the new administration may have a hard task ahead.



Since taking office Xi Jinging has largely stuck to his predecessors 5-point plan which has sought to continue building a good relationship with their giant neighbor. However on April 15th 2013, 25-30 Chinese troops crossed the disputed Himalayan border and set up camp 6 miles within India’s territory! There were also reports of Chinese helicopters circling over an Indian military base in the area, something which the Chinese government have denied took place. As Brahma Chellaney,(New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research) has claimed this is “the most serious incursion by the Chinese in over a quarter of a century.”

Reports have suggested that this is China’s response to India investing a lot of money in roads in the local area to allow for the better transportation of Indian troops, something that has worried Chinese officials.

This particular border is of particular significance as a war was fought between the two sides in 1962, of which China won, however there are still issues of sovereignty over the contested land.

However both sides appear to be playing down the incident with the growing amount of bilateral trade, which they hope will reach $100 billion by the year 2015.

Other areas of worry for India that have arisen in recent months are the growing might of Chinas military, with military spending set to rise 11% in 2013 to 720.2 billion yuan ($114.3 billion), with a heavy focus on naval capabilities, which New Delhi fears could challenge their supremacy in the Indian Ocean. Furthermore, issues have arisen over three proposed dams in China, which could restrict the water flow to India. India has thus asked if they can monitor the dams to ensure their water security.

Thus the battle for dominance in the Asian region will continue and with growing fears over China’s economic growth, credit rating and amounting local debt this could be an interesting few years ahead.



Bardhan, P. (2006) ‘Awakening Giants, Feet of Clay: A Comparative Assessment of the Rise of China and India’, Journal of South Asian Development 1(1): 1-17

CNBC (2012) India’s secret weapon: its young population

Defense Update (2011) “String of Pearls’ is securing China’s sea lanes 

The Diplomat (2013) India and Chinas border spat.

The Economist (2012) Friend, enemy, rival, investor

The Hindu (2013) New Chapter in China’s ties with India says CPC 

Malik, M. J. (1995) ‘China-India Relations in the Post-Soviet Era: The Continuing Rivalry’, China Quarterly, 142: 317-355

Mansingh, S. (1994) India-China Relations in the post-cold war era. Asian Survey 34(30): 285-300

Mearsheimer, J. (2003) The Tragedy of Great Power Politics. New York: Norton

Population forecast: India to overtake China by 2025 (2011) 

The Wall Street Journal (2013) China – India border tensions rise.

Wagner, C. (2010), ‘India’s Gradual Rise’, Politics 30, pp. 63–70.




One Response to “China and India – the battle for regional hegemony?”

  1. squouse March 14, 2014 at 10:24 am #

    Do you feel that this is just China attempting to assert its continental dominance and maintain a sense of national pride? The country’s close ties with Pakistan also seem to be a factor which to me seems almost provocative and unnecessarily antagonistic towards India, a sort of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” politics. China funds over half of Pakistan’s arms weapons, which naturally makes India feel pretty ill at ease, and along with its “necklace of pearls” do you feel that China is trying to create a stranglehold on India?
    It’s also interesting to note that commercial asymmetry adds to the high levels of tension: whilst China earns its keep by being a sort of “workshop” for the world, India is largely the world’s “office”, predominantly providing services whilst exporting raw materials to China only to buy them back in the form of cheap manufactured goods, including mobile phones, firecrackers, and even idols of Indian gods and goddesses. But the government continues to hold back the economic integration of the two giants: any attempt on India’s behalf to expand its manufacturing industry would probably also be suppressed by China’s economic power, whilst the border issues are impeding the propulsion of economic relations. Only a political thrust can help realise what should otherwise be inevitable: the two countries becoming the world’s largest bilateral trade partnership. However, they are both still prisoners of their perceived insecurities and imagined magnificence, which has led to some arguing that both countries first need to overcome their respective problems of political corruption before pursuing economic cooperation which could potentially lift millions out of poverty.

    Saran, Samir: The Curious Case of India and China, NY Times Online (28.10.2013)
    Bobin, Frederic: Inde-Chine, une rivalité ravivée, Le Monde Online (14.05.2013)

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