Evolving Global Order and the Future of the India–China Relations
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Evolving Global Order and the Future of the India–China Relations

By Dr. Benyamin Poghosyan,
Chairman, Center for Political and Economic Strategic Studies, Armenia

Evolving Global Order and the Future of the India–China Relations

Since the mid-2000s two key processes have defined the transformation of the Post-cold war order: power redistribution from the West to the East and power diffusion. For the first time in five hundred years, the West (Europe and since the end of WWII the Euro-Atlantic community) has ceased to be the center of gravity in international relations. New powers have emerged or re-emerged - India, China, Russia, and others - which have obtained growing influence. Another pattern of changing international security architecture is power diffusion – alongside nation-states, new actors – multinational corporations, transnational crime networks, and terrorist organizations - have gained significant capabilities and capacities. These two dominant patterns were developing within the scope of rapid globalization enhanced by the leapfrog advancement of digital technologies.

Thus, after 45 years of bi-polarity and a short period of unipolar moment of unrivaled American hegemony the world has entered in unchartered waters of great power competition. The scholars of international relations still argue to define the precise terms of the emerging world order – multi-polar system, the return of Hobessian vision of war of all against all, regionalization of globalization. Despite all these competing ideas, one thing is clear – the world enters a new era of relative instability, growing emphasis on coercion (both economic and military) and the establishment of ad hoc alliances.

Most probably Asia will be the new center of this emerging world order. Not surprisingly the US started its “Pivot to Asia” policy in 2011 emphasizing that the Asia Pacific will soon become the single most important region of the world. After overcoming the chaos of the 1990s Russia also has attached great significance to Asia. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) was established in 2001 by Russia, China, and four Central Asian republics, and the trilateral Russia – India – China format was launched in 2003. Since the late 1980s, Asia itself has passed through profound transformations. The leading role of Japan as the sole economic powerhouse was rapidly substituted by two growing giants – India and China and to a lesser extent by South Korea and Vietnam. The US was actively supporting China’s rise first viewing Beijing as a counterweight to the Soviet Union and since the early 1990s hoping that the rapid economic growth of China will in a long term perspective usher in changes in China’s political system. Simultaneously, the US was keeping its extended military presence in Asia – Pacific (Guam, Japan, South Korea) to guarantee its unrivaled military capabilities. The situation started to change at the beginning of 2010s when unprecedented economic growth of China has transformed the “Middle Kingdom” into the regional power with clear ambitions to overcome “The century of humiliation”. China’s growth has coincided with the transformation of post-cold war order, power distribution from the West to the East, and the rise of great power competition.

The US is concerned about the impact of China’s rise on its influence and position in Asia – Pacific, but he is not alone. Several Chinese neighbors were cautiously watching Chinese growing influence and confidence seeking to understand the long term implications for regional security and stability. The territorial disputes in the South China and East China seas have amplified the Asian state's concerns about the future of Asia’s security architecture especially in the light of the relative decline of the US power. The President Trump administration has put the great power competition with China and Russia at the center of its 2017 National Security and 2018 National Defense Strategies and in June 2019 Pentagon published its Indo-pacific strategy report sending a clear message to Beijing that the US has no intention to relinquish its leading role in the region.

The US will continue to play a significant role in Asia. However, the end of the US global hegemony will have serious implications on the regional security architecture. Other powers will have a strong role in defining the future of the continent and two main players will be China and India.

Since the end of WWII India has been pursuing a balanced and independent foreign policy seeking to avoid being squeezed between the US and the Soviet Union. India was at the origins of the establishment of the non-alignment movement (the term was coined by prominent Indian politician V K Menon) and after the end of the Cold War continued to pursue friendly relations with Russia, the US and EU always supporting multilateralism and the adherence to the norms and principles of the UN Charter and international law. As was mentioned before India joined Russia and China to establish trilateral RIC format which after inclusion of Brazil and South Africa was transformed into BRICS, though Russia, India, and China continue to have summits in trilateral format (the last online conference of foreign ministers was held on June 23, 2020). In 2017 India joined the SCO and in parallel has established a comprehensive global strategic partnership with the US as was defined in the joint US – India declaration signed in February 2020. India has achieved remarkable economic growth and according to the World Bank data was the third country in the world in 2018 in GDP PPP terms after China and the US.    

Both India and China have played and will continue to play a critical role in defining the future regional security architecture in Asia. Their relations are complicated and multi-layered, as always is the case for the great powers rooted in ancient civilizations. The 1962 China – India war was, perhaps, the lowest point of bilateral relations. However, since the end of the Cold War economic contacts have quickly expanded and now China is the second biggest trade partner of India after the United States and the number one source of Indian imports. 

Meanwhile, the unresolved territorial disputes as well as concerns in India over the long term intentions of China in Asia have contributed to the deterioration of relations in recent years. In 2017 there was a tense China – India standoff in Doklam and recently clashes between Indian and Chinese forces resulted in numerous casualties from both sides along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Galwan Valley. Without going deep into history it should be mentioned that tensions in bilateral relations have clear geopolitical roots. India views with growing anxiety the deepening strategic partnership between China and Pakistan. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the flagship project of the Chinese “Belt and Road” initiative, has played a significant role in boosting Pakistan’s ailing economy. India believes that China’s real intention is to use Pakistan as a permanent source of pressure against India. Many in India perceive the growing Chinese influence in other neighboring countries – such as Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and the Maldives - as a result of Chinese policy to encircle India with the belt of unfriendly nations. The recent critical statements from Nepal against India are viewed as a China inspired conspiracy.

Meanwhile, many in Beijing view with suspicions the growing US – India strategic partnership arguing that India is willing to become a part of the US “China containment strategy”. The US May 2018 decision to change the name of the US Pacific Command to the US Indo-Pacific Command which, as then-Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis described, would better reflect US linkages and values in the region only increased concerns in China. Several circles in China also believe that at least some in India don’t mind to trigger unrest in Tibet using it as leverage against China. 

The end of the US unipolar moment and the US position of world hegemony, as well the growing role of other centers of power will most likely strengthen the struggle between great powers for regional dominance in the different parts of the globe. In this context, Asia is the most dynamic region where the US, India, China, and partly Russia have the necessary resources to vie for gaining more influence. However, none of them can reach regional hegemony. Meanwhile, the changing nature of international relations makes the constant alliances an obsolete notion. In more and more cases we will witness the emergence of an ad hoc grouping of states that will cooperate to solve concrete tasks simultaneously having different and even competing interests in other issues. Thus the establishment of any permanent US – India alliance against China, or China - Russia alliance against the US is unlikely. Most probably we will see the US, Russia, India, and China cooperating and competing with each other in different situations. However, to prevent the chaos and lasting instability in Asia the key players should agree on the basic terms of regional security architecture. Multilateralism and the adherence to the norms and principles of international law may be the cornerstones of such mutual understanding. At least in this context Russia, India and China have overlapping interests and they should use the existed multilateral formats – RIC, BRICS, and SCO as the platforms to discuss the problems and find the mutually beneficial solutions.

About the Author:

Dr. Benyamin Poghosyan
Dr. Benyamin Poghosyan is Founder and Chairman, Center for Political and Economic Strategic Studies and also, Executive Director, Political Science Association of Armenia since 2011. He was Vice President for Research – Head of the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense Research University in Armenia in August 2016 – February 2019. He joined Institute for National Strategic Studies (predecessor of NDRU) in March 2009 as a Research Fellow and was appointed as INSS Deputy Director for research in November 2010. Before this, he was the Foreign Policy Adviser of the Speaker of the National Assembly of Armenia. Dr. Poghosyan has also served as a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of History of the National Academy of Sciences and was an adjunct professor at Yerevan State University and in the European Regional Educational Academy.

His primary research areas are the geopolitics of the South Caucasus and the Middle East, US – Russian relations and their implications for the region. He is the author of more than 70 Academic papers and OP-EDs in different leading Armenian and international journals. In 2013, Dr. Poghosyan was appointed as a "Distinguished Research Fellow" at the US National Defense University - College of International Security Affairs and also, he is a graduate from the US State Department's Study of the US Institutes for Scholars 2012 Program on US National Security policymaking. He holds a Ph.D. in History and is a graduate from the 2006 Tavitian Program on International Relations at Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

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