Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Beijing's Balancing Act: Courting New Delhi, Reassuring Islamabad

Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Beijing's Balancing Act: Courting New Delhi, Reassuring Islamabad

Article excerpt

The "all-weather" Sino-Pakistan relations, characterized especially by Beijing's position on the Kashmir issue and its long-standing and close defense ties with Islamabad, continue to affect New Delhi's threat perceptions and Sino-Indian relations. Beijing's need to sustain friendly relations with Pakistan stems from its desire to mitigate ethnic separatist problems, improve energy security and execute its policy of hedging against a rising and future rival in India. Despite the changing international and regional security environments and Beijing's more balanced South Asia policy, this need is viewed in New Delhi as a major obstacle to enhancing mutual trust and improving bilateral relations between China and India. Conversely, without de-hyphenating Sino-Indian ties, the Pakistan factor will remain a point of contention in fully developing the increasingly important relationship between Asia's two rising powers.


The year 2010 marked the sixtieth anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and India. Beijing and New Delhi celebrated the occasion with a series of festivities and high-level visits. Indian president Pratibha Patil visited China in late May, while Chinese premier Wen Jiabao led a 400-member delegation for a three-day visit to India in mid-December, during which major business contracts worth $16 billion were signed. With annual trade at $60 billion, the two countries are poised to reach $100 billion in trade in the coming years. (1)

Since 2003, Beijing and New Delhi have established multiple channels of bilateral dialogue and consultation aimed at improving mutual understanding, developing a political framework for resolving territorial disputes and promoting bilateral cooperation on both regional and global issues. There have been regular meetings between Chinese and Indian leaders, either at bilateral summits or on the sidelines of international and regional forums. The two militaries maintain contact and in recent years have conducted joint exercises. China and India share similar positions and have cooperated on issues such as climate change, recovery from the 2008 global financial crisis and food security.

However, despite the steady progress and commitments from both Beijing and New Delhi to further develop the bilateral relationship into a strategic partnership for the 21st century, major strains remain. Territorial disputes show no sign of resolution after fourteen rounds of meetings between the special representatives of both governments. Meanwhile, the two countries have also been embroiled in water disputes, growing rivalry in the Indian Ocean and competition for energy.

Some of the major factors affecting Sino-Indian relations, especially where New Delhi's threat perceptions are concerned, are the resilient, all-weather China-Pakistan relationship over the past six decades and Beijing's position on the Kashmir issue. After the 1962 Sino-Indian War and until the early 1980s, China offered strong support of Pakistan's stance. Within the broader Cold War context, as Sino-Indian relations began to improve in the late 1980s, Beijing shifted to a policy of neutrality and called on both India and Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir issue through dialogue and mutual consent. China's changing position on the Kashmir issue has been informed by its decision to develop a more balanced South Asia policy, including improving its relationship with India.

China's close political and security ties with Pakistan grew out of a shared hostility toward India, and they have been sustained by Chinese concerns over energy security, ethnic unrest in China's western territories (e.g., Xinjiang) and the need to hedge against a rising and potential future rival in India. These in turn cause New Delhi to view continued close ties between Beijing and Islamabad as a deliberate attempt to encircle and contain India. The challenge for Beijing is to convince New Delhi that its continuing close ties with Islamabad are not directed at India and are largely driven by its domestic needs for economic development, energy security and campaigns against ethnic separatist activities. …

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