The Changing Dynamics of Sino-India Relations – Options for Pakistan

Author Name: Aneeqa Safdar      04 Nov 2019     Regional security/Region

There are no permanent friends or enemies in international political system. This phenomenon has become the hallmark of interstate relations and time and again is unfolded in relation to newer actors. The informal Summit of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Chennai Connect, which made headlines globally, is nothing but the manifestation of the same philosophy. The two-day summit validated two things: the changing scenarios and complexity of world politics makes it nearly impossible for any state to designate other as a permanent adversary, and secondly economic interests surpass all other interests eventually i.e. geoeconomics may be replacing geopolitics.

The Sino-Indian relationship has been historically defined as acutely competitive. The two countries since 1960’s maintained an aggressive posturing militarily, of which the 73-day Doklam standoff was a fairly recent example. Not long ago, the strategic rivalry of the two Asian powers in Tibet, Aksai Chin and then in South-China sea made the two countries consider each other as challengers. The prevalent realities of United States’ strategy of making India a regional power to contain China, and China’s great game of containment of India, also highlights the confronting position. Nonetheless despite all differences, the two countries never stopped to seek newer domains of cooperation. The two states have maintained a bilateral trade relationship which accounts for almost $90 billion, despite all confrontations and conflicts.

In spite of the fact that India’s arch rival Pakistan is China’s key strategic ally, the two states’ foreign policy overlooks this fact because of the economic carrots. The second Xi-Modi trade Summit came at a time when India and Pakistan were at daggers drawn. China’s open support to Pakistan on the abrogation of Article 370 and its support to carry out a United Nation Security Council (UNSC) meeting though worried India, but despite much speculations, it did not call off the summit.

Many factors could be attributed to such naivety. India cannot afford to provoke China on Kashmir as China is the only state which is a direct stakeholder of Kashmir, apart from India and Pakistan. The revocation of Article 370 and creation of a union territory in Ladakh has direct implications on Sino-India trade dispute. Apart from that, India has long realized the fact that without China’s backing it cannot pursue its ardent aims of being a permanent member of UNSC or a member of Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG). However, in the Chennai Summit, other non-strategic and purely economic factors were also strongly at play. The protectionist scourge of India’s second largest trading partner, the United States, has also pushed it to shake hands with China. The withdrawal of General System of Preferences (GSP) status from India by the US, likewise made it rethink its economic relationship with US and China.

India’s stumbling economic growth in PM Modi’s tenure is an additional factor leading to the show of such enthusiasm towards China. Contrary to PM Modi’s promises to make India the fourth largest economy of the world by doubling its size to $5 Trillion, the economic factors project a different picture. The economic slowdown resulting from a drop in investment and manufacturing, rising unemployment and decline in demand have shaken his dream. Modi’s efforts to craft out a bargain with China on the trade deficit prevalent between the two, were meant to bring a sigh of relief to his government as well as a much needed boom to Indian economy.

China being dragged in an enduring trade war with the US, its biggest trading partner, is also looking out for prospective markets and India’s huge market base proves to be a viable opportunity. In Trump's protectionism policy, both states have found common grounds to negotiate. China’s efforts to bring India to sign the China-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is yet another potential impetus.

India and China’s initiation of a new era of bilateral relations offers significant learning outcomes for Pakistan. When it comes to national interests, alliances become secondary. Blind faith in friendship must not restrict Pakistan from keeping an eye on the nuances of the shifting international political scenario. Although China has been Pakistan’s biggest ally and has time and again proven its loyalty by supporting Pakistan in critical times, the fact that shall not be undermined is that in the 21st century, war fronts as well as strategic alliances lie in the economic domain. As Pakistan strives to build its case on Kashmir in the UN, it must put hefty efforts to bring on board other members of UNSC (permanent and non-permanent alike), apart from China. Moreover, Pakistan must closely monitor the Sino-Indian relations as the closeness of the two shall not undermine Sino-Pakistan relations. However, there are certain opportunities attached too. China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which is seen as a game-changer for Pakistan’s economy and repeatedly gets subjected to India’s malicious strategies to thwart it, can benefit if China sways India to join the flagship project of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Although the Chennai Summit failed to do so, such a move would undoubtedly have a positive impact on the overall security equation of not only South Asia, but also greater Asia.


The writer is a Researcher at Centre for Aerospace and Security Studies (CASS). She can be reached at

This article was first published by National Herald Tribune and can be accessed at

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