Dr. Satyabrat Sinha discusses the Indian experiences of dealing with a rising China and its motivations for strategic and political engagements with Southeast Asian states.

The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) hosted Dr. Satyabrat Sinha, Assistant Professor of the Presidency University India, for a Mabini Dialogue on India-China Relations at the Institute’s Ambassador Francisco L. Benedicto Room, DFA Building, Pasay City, on 23 June 2015.

Dr. Sinha’s presentation, “India-China Relations in Asia: Some Reflections,” examined the bilateral relations in the wider context of the Indo-Pacific region. He explained that India-China relations feature a wide range of cooperation, but equally numerous areas of contention, which he noted were easily surmountable through talks. It is within the context of the geopolitical plane where complications lie. Part of the territories of India in the Western sector is occupied by China, and some Chinese claimed territories are occupied by India.

The development of India-China bilateral relations can be divided into three phases: 1949 to 1959, marked by the escape of Dalai Lama into India; 1959 to 1979, considered as the lowest point with escalation of tensions due to territorial disputes; and 1979 to the present, China’s re-engagement through the leadership of Deng Xiaoping.

Dr. Sinha argued that relations between the two countries feature a mix of positives and negatives. Positives include economic and trade cooperation amounting to USD 70 billion; commonalities on global issues of democratization of institutions, multi-polarity, terrorism, piracy, climate change, and global commons; regular high level leadership visits; and “general good feeling” shared by the two.  Both countries cultivate friendly ties, support the World Forum, and are considered leaders of the post-colonial world.

The negatives, on the other hand, constitute geopolitical and ideational factors including strategic rivalry, quest for status, power, and prosperity.  India’s aspiration for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council, cooperation in the energy sector, and stasis in the boundary talks have also strained their bilateral relations. China has hardened its stance on Tibet and other disputed territories to the extent that it provides a staple visa for residents of Jammu and Kashmir, and Arunachal Pradesh. There is also the collusion to encircle India, which breeds mistrust among the two states. Other factors that strain relations is China’s fostering partnerships with India’s neighboring countries with its “String of Pearls” initiative, as well as transfer of nuclear technology to Pakistan.

Against this backdrop, India has implemented its “Look East-Act East Policy.” It is actively engaging Southeast Asian states, and developing the North Eastern region where it shares borders with Myanmar. India has also played as an internal balancer to stand up to China’s engagement in the South Asia / Indian Ocean region. It is also increasing warm relations with the United States, Japan, and Australia, regarded as the Concert of Democracies.

Despite such engagements, Dr. Sinha argued that it is still difficult to ascertain India’s trajectory and the role it will play in the region. Will it be a secondary balancer, or an extra regional actor seeking partnerships with littoral states? Will India’s power projection be nominal or hesitant? In a wider context, Dr. Sinha raised the question of what an ascendant Indian position in Southeast Asia will mean for the Asian security architecture. Given the United States’ global role and shifting attention span, as well as Japan’s military history, will India be more acceptable within the Asia Pacific region given its self-image?

The Mabini Dialogue was attended by representatives from the Department of Foreign Affairs, armed forces, and the academe, as well as Philippine foreign service posts in Yangon, Jakarta, and Dubai via live webcast.

Prof. Maria Rowena Luz Layador (left), Head of the Center for International Relations and Strategic Studies, presents the Certificate of Appreciation to Dr. Sinha.
Dr. Sinha with FSI Acting Director-General Julio S. Amador III (third from left) and participants from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Office for Strategic Studies and Strategy Management (OSSSM) led by Col. Francis Alaurin (extreme left)
Officers and staff of the DFA and AFP and members of the academe attended the lecture.