Will Modi's Third Term Show A Change In China Policy?

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Will Modi’s Third Term Show A Change In China Policy?

| Updated: June 21, 2024 12:46

Rift between India and China is likely to widen in Modi’s third term

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reduced victory margin in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections have both domestic and foreign policy implications. Without a simple majority and dependent on allies for survival, will there be a change in the policy towards China? 

What does the current political equation in India mean for India-China relations? Experts believe the Centre’s foreign policy objectives related to China are unlikely to change. In fact, Modi’s third term could widen the rift between the two economically and militarily powerful nations in the Global South.

Beijing is a formidable adversary – one of two major geopolitical rivals in the region for India. Compared to Pakistan, China is a stronger rival. The country is a threat to India’s long-standing sphere of influence in terms of diplomacy, politics, and strategic superiority. 

China has advanced military capabilities, economic strength, and influence in other South Asian states, including India’s neighbouring countries. 

Border dispute

The border dispute overshadows other issues between China and India. The Doklam standoff in 2017 and the deadly clash in the Galwan Valley in 2020 showed that this implicit cold war has the potential to turn into a war at any moment unless each side applies self-restraint. 

While Modi has urged peace at the Sino-India border, China has continued to advance its strategic infrastructure there, including building new villages in disputed areas, military bases, and expanding roadways and railways. 

China’s overall position and activities along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) suggest that Beijing’s intentions are to expand its territory at India’s expense. 

Regional influence

Coming to regional influence, China sees any influence it can exert on SAARC member states as a significant strategic gain. India’s foreign policy under Modi has sought to respond to expanding relations between SAARC nations and China.

China has arguably uprooted India’s longstanding and overt authority next to its borders and off India’s shores, as demonstrated by China’s activities in Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and Bangladesh, which have all signed on to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The BRI is entangled with the so-called String of Pearls – China’s goal of establishing a network of military bases that would essentially surround India. Similarly, Beijing’s adamant insertion and occupation of sensitive areas near the Bhutan-India border is a sign of its commitment to political and economic expansion.

Sino-Pak relations

Another significant issue for Modi is the relationship between China and Pakistan. For India, the existence of two nuclear-armed adversaries to the west and east presents a strategic challenge. Pakistan’s military development along the Line of Control (LOC) can potentially create a gap in the LAC, which China can exploit. 

Myanmar will remain a critical component of the Sino-Indian relationship for Modi. The civil war has had a notable impact on India’s national interests. Mega-projects, including the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project, have either been severely impacted or completely halted as a result of the ongoing armed conflict. 

India’s diplomatic advancement and impressive track record on the global stage, particularly in the Global South, over recent years have built up India’s positive image during Modi’s tenure. 

Stable economy

Whereas India’s economy is stable and strong, China’s is experiencing turmoil. Their respective debt-to-GDP ratios strongly contrast, with China’s debt-to-GDP ratio having reached a record 287.8% in 2023, whereas India’s decreased to 18.7%. Both countries have strong nationalist interests on the domestic front. 

India may seek to capitalise on China’s economic turmoil. Modi’s heightened involvement with his Western counterparts reinforces his position as the most prominent leader in South Asia, even though the recent election results suggest that Modi’s popularity and power have peaked. 

The Taiwan question

The Chinese leadership congratulated Modi the day after his election and expressed their desire to collaborate. So did Taiwan’s President Lai Ching-te, who offered his “sincere congratulations” to Modi in a post on X. Modi expressed gratitude for Lai’s message in his own post on X, adding, “I look forward to closer ties as we work towards mutually beneficial economic and technological partnership.”

Beijing objected to Modi’s interaction with Lai, especially his embracing the possibility of working closely with Taiwan.

S. Jaishankar, India’s external affairs minister, has emphasised the potential to strengthen India’s relationship with Taiwan in the technology sector, specifically in the important semiconductor sector, which is a growing focus of global competition. Taiwan is a major power in this domain, accounting for over 90% of advanced chip production. 

The India-China-Taiwan relationship triangle also converges with India and China’s space ambitions, their geostrategic rivalry, and the crucial semiconductor and technology sector, in which Taiwan plays a key role. Semiconductor technologies play a crucial role in the exploration of space, enabling spacecraft, satellites, and space instruments to operate. 

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