China and India’s emergence as global powers is unprecedented in modern history. In the second session of the Carnegie Europe Roundtable Series, Carnegie’s Ashley J. Tellis explained how Sino-Indian relations have change and what impact it will have on the world. Sino-Indian bilateral relations are defined by a complex balance of competition and cooperation that Tellis characterized as co-engagement.

Sino-Indian Relationship

Traditionally, China has oriented itself toward North East Asia and the Pacific, while India has focused on the South Asian subcontinent. However, their remarkable economic growth and military expansions have lead to more frequent and sustained political interactions. This engagement has elements of both rivalry and cooperation. Bilateral relations encompass defense, deterrence, and reassurance simultaneously. This pattern of engagement is still limited, and will remain secondary to relationships with other global players, especially the United States.

Sino-Indian relations are marked by old conflicts centered on border disputes, the new fight against terrorism, differing concepts of state sovereignty, the desire for recognition at the international level, and the search for natural resources beyond Asia to support their economic growth. Mutual economic interests have led to Chinese and Indian state oil companies establishing joint ventures to explore new oil fields in Africa.

From a security standpoint, China consistently denies that India is a potential rival while remaining engaged with India’s competitors, especially Pakistan. With the latter, Beijing maintains a strategic relationship but at the same time avoids bolstering Pakistan’s revisionist claims toward India. China tries to minimize direct conventional military competition with India, which is part of its global strategy of presenting itself as a peaceful emerging power. India has avoided military, political or rhetorical confrontation with Beijing since the Sino-Indian War of 1962. In addition, Delhi seeks to improve relations with China in the areas like trade. At the same time, Delhi has intensified relations with other global players and, just like China, is focused on increasing its national power.

U.S. Involvement

The United States has maintained a weighted equilibrium in its relations toward India and China. While convinced that it must be prepared to protect its geopolitical interests, Washington hopes that globalization, democratization, and the need for continuing economic development will attenuate any prospective security dilemmas between the U.S., China, and India.

To help maintain a balance in its relationships with the two countries, the U.S. has attempted to strengthen its relationship with India in recent years. The civilian nuclear agreement both countries reached in 2006 remains the crowning achievement of this effort. Tellis explained that because the U.S. and India share a common interest in preserving the balance of power in Asia, every U.S. administration will protect the relationship with India as a hedge  in case U.S. – China relations deteriorate.

China and India’s Global Relationships

The discussion that followed Tellis’ presentation highlighted China and India’s interactions with key countries like Russia and Japan. In the case of Russia, its strategy toward China and India is a pragmatic one: Moscow is an energy producer and arms supplier. Japan sees China’s rise primarily as a serious geopolitical threat, but its strategy toward Asia’s emerging powers has not yet been sufficiently clarified inside the country.

The search for energy resources was also discussed. While China’s policy in Africa is well-known, Delhi is deepening its ties in Africa as well. It benefits from a historical relationship with African states derived from its leadership in the non-alignment movement. India’s presence in the Persian Gulf is also remarkable: some 4 million Indians are currently working in this region. This figure is expected to rise to 7 millions by 2015. Finally, India’s diaspora has become an elite population in these host countries, and Delhi is starting to acknowledge its contribution to the modernization of India.

U.S. Policy Prescriptions

Tellis concluded the discussion by presenting three precepts for future U.S. foreign policy. First, preserve strong relations with both China and India with weighted priority towards the latter. Second, encourage continued interdependence as a means to encourage economic growth. And third, maintain a robust military capacity to protect American interests in case globalization fails to produce solutions that resolve conflicts.