Ambivalent Accommodation: Status Signalling of a Rising India and China's Response - By CWP Alumni Xiaoyu Pu
The parallel rise of India and China is one of the most significant strategic developments in the twenty-first century. While the West has enthusiastically welcomed the rise of India, it has been met with a more ambivalent response from China. India is sending complicated signals about its preferred status on the global stage. Struggling for recognition as a Great Power, India is also trying to maintain solidarity with developing countries. While Chinese elites mostly view it as a positive development, China's accommodation of India's rise has been partial, conditional and inconsistent. China's interpretations of India's signals largely depend on China's own identity, as well as political calculations. India's efforts to foster solidarity among developing countries resonate well with Chinese elites. The Chinese public has received Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's public diplomacy positively, and India's diplomatic activism has increased its profile in the eyes of China's policy elites. China is hesitating to accommodate some aspects of India's Great Power aspirations, but status politics is not always a zero–sum game. Chinese elites see improvement in the Sino-Indian relationship as a condition for China's greater acceptance of India's Great Power aspirations, and there is still some room for bargaining and mutual accommodation. While there is great potential for cooperation between India and China, distrust and suspicions continue to shape the trajectories of the relationship.
In May 2016, Indian President Pranab Mukherjee paid a state visit to China. During his trip, he proposed a ‘people-centric partnership’ to deepen India's relationship with China.1 This successful trip is just one of the increasing number of high-level exchanges that have been taking place between India and China as the leaders of both countries try to raise their relationship to a new level. On 23 June 2016, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met during the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Tashkent. Xi congratulated India on signing the memorandum of obligation to join the SCO and said that China looked forward to enhancing cooperation with India within the SCO framework.2 However, a few days later, India's bid to enter the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) was turned down in Seoul. China, Brazil and some other members reportedly insisted that India sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty before admission was granted. When the news reached India, many Indians were furious with China.3 They seemed to assume that India would be admitted to the NSG given that it had the publicly expressed support of the US, and they believed that China was the only country that had blocked its entry.4According to a senior Chinese diplomat, however, China did not oppose India's entry into the NSG. China was concerned about the criteria for NSG membership and the implications for non-proliferation in a wider context.5The Indian government later announced its intention to expel three Chinese journalists from the country—an announcement interpreted by the Global Times, a Chinese nationalist media outlet, as retaliatory overreaction.6 These episodes illustrate the increasingly complex relationship between India and China as the two rising Asian powers both cooperate and compete in the twenty-first century. Their bilateral relationship is multifaceted, complex and sometimes difficult to manage.
The parallel rise of India and China is one of the most significant strategic developments in the twenty-first century. The relationship between the two Asian giants will play a decisive role in shaping the emerging global order in the new century. While the West has welcomed India's rise, China's response has been more ambivalent. This article makes the following arguments. First, as a rising power, India is sending complicated signals about its preferred status on the global stage. In particular, India is struggling for Great Power status while trying to maintain solidarity with developing countries. It is seeking to develop its image as an ‘alternative power’ that champions soft power, democracy and non-coercive diplomacy, while also developing hard-power capabilities similar to those of traditional Great Powers. Second, China's perceptions and interpretations of India's signals depend to a considerable degree on China's sense of its own identity as well as its political calculations. India's solidarity signal about its developing country status resonates well with Chinese elites. Modi's own active public diplomacy has been received positively by the Chinese public, and India's diplomatic activism more broadly has raised the country's profile in the eyes of China's policy elites. India's democratic model, however, has elicited mixed Chinese reactions, which reflect China's domestic political debates more than concerns with the Indian government.7 Third, China is accommodating India's rise partially and ambivalently. Though India and China are competing with each other, Chinese elites largely view India as a potential global partner. A rising India will provide good opportunities for China's economic growth. Cooperation with India will allow Beijing to avoid a costly confrontation and reduce the domination of the United States in what is becoming a multipolar world. China is reluctant to accommodate some aspects of India's Great Power aspirations, but status politics is not a zero-sum game. Finally, distrust and competition still exist, and the asymmetry of power and perception continue to shape the trajectories of the relationship.
The article proceeds as follows. The first section discusses India's rise and the status signals it is giving. The second section analyses Chinese perceptions of a rising India. The third section discusses how and why China is accommodating India's rise partially and ambivalently. The concluding section summarizes the key findings and policy implications.
International Affairs, Volume 93, Issue 1, 1 January 2017, Pages 147–163,https://doi.org/10.1093/ia/iiw002
Published: 01 January 2017