Delhi’s relations with China have been marred by a host of unresolved bilateral disputes since they became neighbors in the middle of the 20th century and an unending competition for regional influence.
How this rivalry moves in the coming years—towards intensification or mitigation—will have a great impact on the outcomes from the U.S. pivot to Asia and the construction of a new Asian balance.
In the last few years, despite growing economic engagement, Sino-Indian political tensions have not only intensified in the traditional theatre of the Great Himalayas,but have also spilled over to the maritime spaces of the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
With their growing and globalized economies, China and India are now dependent on the seas as never before in their history. Both are building large navies.
Naval planners in Beijing and Delhi would like to project power way beyond their territorial waters to secure the increasingly dispersed interests of their nations.
In both capitals, the traditional attachment to the ideology of‘non-alignment’ is giving way, if slowly, to the recognition of the need to have the capacity to influence developments far from their shores.
Naval leaders in both Beijing and Delhi would like to win access to facilities in critical locations and build special political relationships that will allow their incipient blue water navies to operate in far seas.
As their maritime interests expand and their naval footprints overlap, there is new friction between China and India in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
The rise of China and the emergence of India as naval powers has led to widespread recognition that the two oceans can no longer be seen as separate theatres but as a single strategic space—the Indo-Pacific.
China’s main maritime preoccupations are in the Western Pacific—reunifying Taiwan, defending Chinese territorial claims, and constraining American naval dominance.
Yet, China’s rising maritime profile in the Indian Ocean, from where it imports a large portion of its energy and mineral resources, is generating deep concerns in Delhi.
While India’s main interest is in securing its primacy in the Indian Ocean littoral, its navy is making frequent forays into the Western Pacific.