Competition for Resources in the Indo-Pacific: India and China

The Indo-Pacific region has become one of the world's most significant regions considering its political, economic, and security relevance. The region is home to two of the world's largest economies and populations—India and China. According to the World Economic Forum by 2030, the region is expected to contribute roughly 60% of global growth. It is no secret that both India and China are competing for the same resources and same markets, while seeking at the same time to strengthen their political, economic, and security partnerships with countries in the region. While these are more of a macro view of the region, there is a complex web of challenges that both India and China face in advancing their respective agenda in the region.

The People's Republic of China with 1.39 billion, and India, with a 1.36 billion population are the largest consumer markets in the region. "China's One Belt One Road (OBOR) colossal infrastructure investments may usher in a new era of trade and growth for economies in Asia and beyond."[1] The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) aims to utilize the existing landscape and building infrastructure on both land and maritime roads. From China's perspective, the New Silk Road opens opportunities for establishing new partnerships, while strengthening already-existing bilateral relations with countries in the region through a so-called win-win strategy.  On the surface it may well look like that an OBOR recipient country benefits from the Chinese investments in infrastructure and over-all development. In practice, however, China's gracious offer has raised suspicions of debt-trap, financial ambiguity, not to mention that Beijing’s human rights records aren't inspiring to some of its partners, especially in the West.


Furthermore, China's involvement in multiple maritime claims with Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Japan has been counter-effective to its grand economic endeavors. Hence, despite these opportunities and propositions, China faces a host of insurmountable challenges.


Since the spread of the coronavirus global pandemic, China has suffered a serious blow to its public image in the world, especially across advanced economies. According to the Pew Research Center,  negative views on China have significantly increased in Germany, the United Kingdom, Netherlands, Sweden, South Korea, Japan, Spain, Italy, the United States, and Canada.[2]  Combination of all these issues present a great challenge to China's leadership and strategy.

India, on the other hand is a strong U.S. ally, with its robust democratic institutions, “yoga diplomacy”, and freedom of religious practices is widely respected around the world. However, this does not  imply that the world would turn a blind eye to the Jammu and Kashmir’s protracted conflict, or violence against women.[3] In 2019, India was listed as the fourth-largest economy in the world, generating 9.2 trillion dollars.[4]  Moreover, the Economist Intelligence Unit Democracy Index of 2020 scored India 6.61 and ranked 53—in comparison to China, which scored 2.27 and ranked 151 out of 167 countries. One notable development is that India will sit in the 15-nation UNSC 2021-2022 term as a non-permanent member.


These numbers indicate that, even though India-China bilateral relations can play a significant role in the region, considering each country’s potential, manpower, and grand endeavors, competition for the same resources and different ideologies may prevent such cooperation.


India and China are both members of multilateral economic organizations such as BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) G20, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). While China is one of the original Shanghai Five and the leading financier of SCO, India became an SCO member comparatively later, in 2017. In December 2020, during the 19th meeting of the Council of Heads of Government of Member States of the SCO, the Chinese Premier Li Keqiang called "for fostering a secure and stable development environment, consolidating integrated development, leveraging the catalytic role of sci-tech innovation and pursuing people-centered cooperation." And the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated that "New Delhi has a clear three-pronged policy approach — deepen ties with Russia; monitor and counter the influence of China and Pakistan; and expand cooperation with the Central Asian Republics (CARs)— Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan."[5] Moreover, as Chinese investment continues to increase in the CARs, India’s interest lies in countering Chinese influence rather than in cooperating with China.   The regional competition is not the only issue that stains India-China relations.


Recent border escalation between India and China gestures to what could go wrong if de-escalation didn't occur. "The current military standoff between India and China in eastern Ladakh, which started in the early May 2020, has effectively jeopardized decades-old confidence-building measures (CBMs) around the India-China Line of Actual Control (LAC) – and has acted as a serious irritant in bilateral relations, upending decades of relative stability that drew from geopolitics, political will on both sides and strategic choices made by both countries."[6]


As the Indo-Pacific region in increasingly moving to the center of regional and global political, economic, and security interplay, the positions of India and China are becoming significant as never before. Presented with these challenges, both New Delhi and Beijing are poised to make difficult decisions—choosing between national interest and international consensus, picking allies and adversaries, all while making an effort to develop and modernize. Moreover, the strengthening of the U.S. allies—India, Japan, South Korea presents a significant challenge for Chinese presence and its influence in the Indo-Pacific. On the other hand, to avoid isolation, China will need to modify some of its aggressive approaches. The competition between India and China is likely to increase as both developing countries compete for the same resources. Cooperation is unlikely due to each country's differing political, economic, and security goals and views on global issues at large.


Bolor Lkhaajav is Foreign Policy Analyst based in the United States. She received M.A. in Asia-Pacific Studies from the University of San Francisco. Bolor is currently writing a book on Mongolian foreign policy. She is a co-host of 77 Nation based in Washington, DC.