In a comprehensive but controversial paper on the troubled Sino-Indian relationship, Chinese scholar Dr. Cuiping Zhu says that there can be a Sino-Indian détente only if India accepts China’s viewpoint on a range of issues, including the border/territorial dispute and China’s activities and investments in South Asia.

Dr. Cuiping Zhu is a Deputy Director of Research in the Institute for Indian Ocean Economies (RIIO), Yunnan University of Finance and Economics (YUFE). Her ideas are expounded in her book: India’s Ocean: Can China and India Coexist?” published by Springer.

Cuiping Zhu proposes that India cooperate with China on the latter’s economic projects in South Asia and use the complementarity in skills and resources for mutual benefit and the benefit of countries which are part of China’s On Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative.

The first proposition for total acceptance of China’s positions, will, of course, be totally rejected by India because it goes against historical facts and also its image of being the dominant power in South Asia.

India certainly cannot accept that it should give in on the border issue and not challenge China’s brazen territorial claims, including its claim over the entire State of Arunachal Pradesh.

Cuiping Zhu recognizes India’s growing capabilities but would like it to be a junior partner in China’s plans for South Asia and the Indian Ocean Rim Countries. She trashes the Indian case that there can be no development cooperation until China gives up its claims vis-à-vis the Sino-Indian border; ensures peace on the border; supports’ India’s bid to be a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group; and stops opposing the listing of Pakistan-based, anti-India terrorists by the UN.

India sees China’s determined push to secure an economic foothold in South Asia as a bid to encroach on its strategic backyard challenging its legitimate claim to be the dominant power in the region. India feels that China is trying to encircle it rather than develop the region for development’s sake. There is a huge trust deficit between the two countries which Cuiping Zhu acknowledges.

She portrays India as a “power-hungry” country, seeking dominance over the Indian Ocean region. She quotes historian-diplomat K.M.Panikkar and former political leaders who had said that India has a legitimate security interest in keeping the Indian Ocean “Indian” and extending its influence to the Pacific.

But China, she claims, has never had such ambitions and that it is solely motivated by a desire to share its economic and technical capabilities to bring development to backward counties in the region. Even its security interest is economic and non-expansionist in nature because it needs to secure the Indian Ocean only to keep its vital energy supply lines open.

China is one of the world’s topmost oil users, and since the oil comes from West Asia, China has to keep the Indian Ocean free from threats to its shipping. Hence its interest in acquiring ports in the region, Cuiping Zhu says. She sees the US-UK-Japan-India campaign to ensure “navigational freedom” in the Indo-Pacific region as a thinly-veiled move to choke China’s supply lines.

But the author makes no mention of China’s highly contested maritime claims in East Asia and their possible fallout in the Indian Ocean Region. The latter scenario is of grave concern to India as it is already facing a steady, and increasingly brazen Chinese encroachment on the Sino-Indian border.

Cuiping Zhu begins her thesis by recalling that at independence in 1947, India became “ambitious to be a great power like Britain”. India has kept its high military equipment investment in recent years, with military investment slightly higher than growth rate of GDP. In particular, India has made a huge investment in naval construction.

“The world’s energy needs will rise by 50% by 2030, and almost half of that consumption will be in India and China. Soon to become the world’s fourth largest energy consumer after the United States, China, and Japan—India is dependent on oil for more than 90% of its energy needs, and 90% of that oil will come from the Persian Gulf by way of the Arabian Sea. Indeed, before 2025, India will overtake Japan as the world’s third-largest net importer of oil after the United States and China, hence its worries about the Indian Ocean,” Cuiping Zhu says.

As for China, it has “indisputable” economic and security interests in this ocean, with 80% of national imported crude oil and 50% of maritime trade carried along the Indian Ocean routes.

Further, the Indian Ocean region has 65% of global strategic raw material reserves, and is extremely rich in precious metal, having 85% of global manganese reserves, 60% of global vanadium reserves, 86% of global chromium reserves, over 50% of global uranium reserves, and the world’s largest iron reserves.

A combination of geopolitics and resources-politics will decide on the question of peace and conflict in the Indian Ocean region. The author quotes the US Marine Corps “Vision and Strategy” statement of June 2008 to say that the Indian Ocean and its adjacent waters will be a “central theatre of conflict and competition” by 2025.

This is the reason why the US is also seeking to be the preeminent South Asian Power, she says. And the US and India are in alliance for their mutually compatible security objective.  However, India is uncomfortable being tied to America’s coattails, she adds.

The Indian Ocean region is also the cradle of terrorism. The breeding grounds of terrorism are: Pakistan and Afghanistan; Arabian Peninsula;  Somalia Peninsula; Maghreb, all located in the Indian Ocean region.

Further, the underdeveloped state of South Asian economies will exacerbate the security situation, bringing regional and global powers to the Indian Ocean to ensure their own security, the Chinese scholar says. “Experience shows that extremism often exists in the midst of poverty and unemployment as the poor and unemployed are more likely to be mobilized, and bewitched by extremists, be prone to violence.”

To solve this problem, economic growth should be promoted,” the author says and adds that in this task, there is vast scope for Sino-Indian collaboration. And that is so, also because the US has no economic interest in the region, but only a security interest.

But Sino-Indian economic development cooperation is hampered by the “China Threat Theory”. Some Indo-Pacific countries including India, worry that China’s rising economic power will be accompanied by strong sovereignty and territorial claims.

While the emerging economies, mainly China and India, have gradually realized the important role of strengthening cooperation in promoting a global balance of power, a peaceful atmosphere is not evident, she notes, attributing it to the “China-Threat” Theory.

“Even if China’s influence on the Indian Ocean region is very limited, China’s going westward into the Indian Ocean, for whatever reason, makes India worry,” Cuiping Zhu says.

“In such a context, unless carefully managed, the rivalry on the sea between China and India is likely to further be intensified along with the increase of oceanic activities of the Chinese navy and the Indian navy.”

To Cuiping Zhu, the territorial dispute between China and India as well as other contentious issues are “excuses” for India to provide long-term support for the Dalai Lama’s “separatist group”, and its attempts to contain China by raising religious issues.

Be that as it may, if India wants to be a sea/military power, it should first be an economic power, the Chinese scholar says. And to be an economic power, it needs China’s cooperation, she adds.

Cuiping Zhu has a word of advice to China too. “In selecting pilot cooperation projects, China should not only try to export cheap goods and import resource-based products but should also consider non-resource-based cooperation projects and cooperation projects in the areas closely related to people’s livelihood, so as to avoid misunderstanding or incorrect perception of other countries, ” she says.


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