China’s Measured Embrace of India

BEIJING – Chinese President Xi Jinping’s three-day visit to India, the main leg of a recent tour of Central and South Asia, sheds new light on China’s emerging approach to its neighbors, particularly Asia’s other giant. Recent subtle changes in Sino-Indian relations could prove to be enormously consequential for the world in the coming decades.

Under Xi, China is adopting a new grand strategy which can be called “dual rebalancing”: implementing bold domestic reforms to regain economic momentum while overhauling China’s global posture and diplomacy, focusing on sources of risk in its near abroad. The Silk Road Economic Belt, which is focused on Central Asia, and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, which concentrates on the countries bordering the Indian Ocean’s shipping lanes, are leading initiatives on China’s foreign-policy agenda. Their success will depend, in large part, on whether China gets support from other great powers, specifically Russia in Central Asia and India in South Asia.

China understands that India’s position on the world stage has been strengthening since the beginning of this century. India’s new prime minister, Narendra Modi, an aspirational and authoritative leader from Gujarat, one of the country’s most developed states, has promised to bring India’s economy out of a half-decade funk, enhance the living standards of his country’s have-nots, and boost the country’s standing as a global power. The trick for Chinese policy is to reconcile Modi’s ambitions with China’s strategic goals.

Since Modi came to power, India has been basking in the adulation of major powers like Japan and the United States. Partly motivated by a desire to counterbalance China’s rising geopolitical influence, Japan and the US have sought to draw India into a multilateral alliance consisting of democratic countries in the Asia-Pacific region. Indeed, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has vowed to forge a “democratic security diamond” with the US, Australia, and India.