Managing Sino-Indian relations in a turbulent world: A Chinese perspective

It is necessary for the two sides to revive their bilateral strategic dialogue, rather than just confining it to border negotiations. Both sides should also continue to attach importance to exchanging views and sending out positive signals through multilateral platforms like G20, SCO and BRICS.

Siwei Liu Feb 23, 2023

China and India are the two most populous countries in the world, and also close neighbors. How the two Asian giants interact has always been one focus of the international community. Although Sino-Indian relations have always had their own unique interactive track, it is undeniable that it is increasingly affected by the external environments in an intensifying turbulent and fragmented world.

It must be conceded that the current ties have come up at a critical juncture that is full of uncertainties and experiencing various emotions. This is why experts have various views and predicts about the future of the bilateral ties between the two Asian giants. Some experts believe that since G20 and SCO summit in 2023 will be held in India, both sides can make good use of these chances to improve relations wounded by the 2020 border crisis; but other experts argue that the structural competition between China and India is difficult to put their relations back on track of steady and sound development, especially when both are competing for the global market and expanding their circle of friends in global South. 

But in any case, the importance of Sino-Indian Relations cannot be stated too enough. So how to manage their engagements well and push them back on a healthy track, or at least not let it end up in vicious competition or conflict, is a must at present.

Importance of right signalling

As things stand at the moment, both sides should at least pay attention to the following aspects.

First and foremost, perhaps is about their diplomatic and strategic signaling. Both sides need to examine whether they have sent clear diplomatic and strategic signals to the other side, rather than inconsistent and vague signals. As an expert points out, in a rapidly changing world, signaling remains a crucial aspect of diplomacy, about as essential to it as to a busy airport. 

Unfortunately, Sino-Indian relations have been troubled by vague or inconsistent signals from one or both sides in recent years. Although diplomatic ambiguity in some cases is considered constructive and acceptable to a certain extent, too many vague or inconsistent signals also can lead to misunderstanding, especially in an injured relationship.

Arguably, Sino-Indian engagement in 2022 is such a case. After stabilizing the border crisis through a series of negotiations and consultations, the two sides tried to release some positive signals but the real effect was short of their expectations. For instance, in August 2022, India's External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar publicly stated that the "Asian Century" would happen when China and India came together. China has also given positive responses. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told journalists that “As a Chinese leader put it, ‘Unless China and India are developed, and there will be no Asian Century. No genuine Asia-Pacific century or Asian Century can come until China, India and other neighbouring countries are developed.’ ” 

Impact of emerging technologies

Unfortunately, despite the positive signals released by both sides, the negative signals have not disappeared, and India's 'China threat' theory persists. Evidently, many vague and inconsistent signals are affecting mutual trust reconstruction between the two sides, and need to be addressed soon.

Second, many 'issue politics' that are embedded in the nexus between security and development are affecting ties, and preventing over-securitization of related issues has become a top priority. Once some issues are over securitized it will make things complicated and easily lead to a spiral escalation of both countries' security dilemmas. Recent border infrastructure construction on both sides may be such an issue. In the last decade both China and India have enhanced their border infrastructure and this has only magnified their security dilemmas. Since the Modi government came into power in 2014, border infrastructure enhancement has gone up more than three times. In addition, some activities at sea, such as combating piracy and related scientific research ship activities, have led to the magnification of security concerns. In August 2022, a Chinese research ship Yuan Wang 5 had requested permission to dock at a Sri Lankan port, but the visit was delayed after security concerns were raised by India, though New Delhi denied putting any pressure on Colombo.

Third, the potential impact of new technologies on ties also deserves high attention. Some emerging technologies may disrupt regional security rules or norms. For instance, many maritime coastal countries are enhancing their own Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA)capabilities and building MDA networks, but MDA networks may cause security concerns as they involve sensitive information and intelligence collection. Further, new developments in artificial intelligence (AI)and deep-sea technology may also have complex impacts on the relations between major powers, China and India. The recent launch of the Critical and Emerging Technology (iCET) initiative between the United States and India may just heighten Chinese concerns. 

Sino-Indian relations are at new crossroads affected by many factors in a turbulent world, but its future is ultimately shaped by their bilateral interactions and engagements. Both sides should realize that the world is looking towards both China's and India’s wisdom to navigate through troubled times. It is necessary for the two sides to revive their bilateral strategic dialogue, rather than just confining it to border negotiations. Both sides should also continue to attach importance to exchanging views and sending out positive signals through multilateral platforms like G20, SCO and BRICS. In addition, promoting functional cooperation in some areas is also needed, such as joint cooperation in responding to nontraditional threats like nature disasters and climate change.

(The author is an associate professor, Institute of South Asian Studies, Sichuan University, China. Views are personal. She can be reached at

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