India-China Relations: Events as of 2019

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Context: The second informal summit between leaders of India and China is scheduled to take place in the second week of October in the coastal town of Mamallapuram, south of Chennai. 


  • India and its neighbourhood- relations.
  • Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.
  • Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests, Indian Diaspora.

Among the decisions taken at the Wuhan Summit held in April last year was to hold more such summits, aimed at ensuring “higher levels of strategic communications.” The Mamallapuram meet adheres to the Wuhan Summit in the letter but one wonders whether in the past 18 months the two leaders did succeed in enhancing strategic communications.

When China agreed to an informal summit in 2018, there was considerable skepticism as to what would be on offer from the Chinese side while agreeing to such a move. China was riding the crest of a wave of achievements and did not think it needed to make concessions to anyone, least of all India. Since then, however, China has met with certain setbacks — geopolitically and economically — while India, though beset by a host of economic woes, seems better positioned today than in the spring of 2018. It, however, remains to be seen whether it will ensure that this summit is more productive.


Symbolic choice of venue: 

  • If Wuhan was picked by President Xi Jinping as the venue last year to demonstrate China’s economic resilience and might, Mamallapuram is symbolic of India’s ‘soft power’.
  • Mamallapuram, an important town of the erstwhile Pallava dynasty that ruled this part of south India from 275 CE to 897 CE, is renowned for its architecture, widely admired across the world.
  • Mamallapuram and the Pallava dynasty are also historically relevant, for the earliest recorded security pact between China and India (in the early 8th century) involved a Pallava king (Rajasimhan, or Narasimha Varma II), from whom the Chinese sought help to counter Tibet, which had by then emerged as a strong power posing a threat to China.

India-China's tug of war: 

  • China and India continue to compete and have a contradictory outlook on many strategic and civilisational issues. These include the nature of Asian security, regional stability and the role of the U.S. in the region.
  • The China-Pakistan axis has been further cemented — the UN designating Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist a mere blip in the wider scheme of China-Pakistan relations.
  • Informal summits have their use as trust-building exercises. It has to be acknowledged, however, that since the Wuhan Summit, little has changed as far as India-China relations are concerned. Doklam and the disputed border between the two countries remains an issue of concern.
  • China, along with countries like Pakistan, remains more intent than ever on ensuring that India has no role to play in Afghanistan.

What has changed after the Wuhan summit: 

  • After the Wuhan Summit, many things have changed, altering the circumstances surrounding India-China relations. For instance, relations between China and the U.S. have sharply deteriorated.
  • Apart from the U.S., a vast majority of nations in the West have cooled off towards China.
  • While in 2018, the China-Russia axis appeared to be carving out an exclusive zone of influence in East Asia, by mid-2019, new alignments- a further strengthening of India-Russia ties, a new triangular relationship of Russia, India, and Japan, appear to be altering equations in the East Asian region.
  • China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has also come under increasing attack, even from countries that previously viewed China as a munificent nation.
  • China’s domestic scene is again marked by heightened anxiety today. The economy is far more fragile than in early 2018, as exemplified by the jitters emanating from China’s equity and currency markets, and the decline in growth rates.
  • Internal security concerns such as unrest in Tibet, inroads made by radical extremist groups in Xinjiang and the latest turn of events in Hong Kong are also reinforcing fears about the leadership’s ability to control the situation.

China’s concerns:

India, on the other hand, has reasons to be more optimistic than a year ago.

  • India’s relations with the U.S. have attained a new high.
  • Relations with Russia have acquired a fresh dimension, incorporating economics alongside a longstanding military relationship. India’s line of credit to develop Russia’s Far East has fundamentally changed the nature of India-Russia relations. India’s relations with Japan have greatly strengthened.
  • The Quadrilateral (the U.S., India, Japan, and Australia) has gained a new lease of life.


All this is certain to make China pause and rethink issues. Additionally, certain recent actions by India are likely to arouse China’s suspicions about India’s intentions, which could impact the summit outcome. 


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