October 19, 2009
Written by C.N.
About a year and a half ago, I wrote about how China and India were trying to irn out some geographic, political, and economic differences as they both continue their emergence as 21st century superpowers. While relations between the two countries seem to have been stable for a while, as Time magazine reports, it looks like their rivalry is beginning to heat up again:
India and China fought a war in 1962 whose acrimonious legacy lingers even while economic ties flourish (China is now India’s biggest trade partner). Beijing refuses to acknowledge the de facto border — demarcated by the British empire — and claims almost the entirety of the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh as part of its territory.
Indian strategic analysts believe Beijing’s stance has hardened in recent years, perhaps as a consequence of its increasing economic and military edge over India as well as growing Chinese influence in smaller South Asian countries like Nepal and Bangladesh. . . . “There’s a nervousness among some policymakers that the Chinese see India as weak and vulnerable to coercion,” says Harsh Pant, professor of defense studies at King’s College, London. . . . “Indians feel they can’t manage China’s rise and that they are far, far behind.” . . .
But the real arena for future confrontation, say most Indian strategists, lies not in standoffs on remote, rugged peaks but in the waters all around the Indian subcontinent. . . . Traditionally, India has imagined the ocean as part of its backyard without investing serious resources in its navy — much more goes to an army and air force that are perched by the land boundaries with the old enemy of Pakistan. . . .
To safeguard its vast appetite for oil and other natural resources, particularly those drawn from Africa, China has . . . [built] ports and listening posts around the Indian Ocean rim. . . . China will eventually possess key naval choke points around the subcontinent that could disrupt Indian lines of communication and shipping.
Reports of a tense standoff earlier this year between Indian and Chinese warships on anti-piracy patrol in the Gulf of Aden — though dismissed by both governments — did little to subdue the sense of distrust brewing between policymakers on both sides.
Something tells me that these renewed tensions between China and India are likely to get worse before they get better. If so, this is the last thing the world needs, but something that the U.S. may secretly like to see — two emerging superpowers and challengers to the U.S.’s global superiority sniping at each other and raising tensions in the region.
The other unknown is how will rising tensions between China and India affect relations between the Chinese American and Indian American communities in the U.S. Up to this point, these two Asian American communities seem to have good relations with each other, as they share many characteristics and experiences in common, particularly concerning immigration and entrepreneurship issues.
Nonetheless, with so many Chinese and Indian Americans maintaining connections with their ancestral countries, if tensions rise back there, they may eventually spill over into their lives in the U.S.