The Development Of India-US And India-China Relations – Analysis


By He Jun

The current relationship between India and the United States appears to be the strongest in years. In the evolving global geopolitical landscape of recent years, the U.S. has successfully expanded its Asia-Pacific rebalancing to the Indian Ocean, bringing India into the U.S.-led Indo-Pacific Strategy and attracting India to participate in the Quad dialogue composed of the U.S., India, Japan, and Australia. In both of these geopolitical arrangements, India plays an indispensable supporting role.

In the warming of U.S.-India relations, the U.S. has taken the initiative. In fact, since Donald Trump assumed the U.S. presidency, the U.S. government has been actively promoting the improvement of U.S.-India relations. During the Biden administration, efforts to warm the relationship between the two countries have been even more systematic.

Regarding U.S.-India relations, both Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and U.S. President Joe Biden made high-profile statements during their meeting in June. At the time, Modi remarked “I believe that our strategic partnership is important. I’m confident that working together will be successful”. During a joint press conference held by Modi and Biden on June 22, Biden stated that U.S.-India relations are one of the most important in the world and that the current U.S.-India relationship is “more dynamic than at any time in history”.

At the G20 summit held in New Delhi from September 9 to 10, the U.S. and India once again emphasized the strength and prospects of their bilateral relationship. Since the national leaders of China and Russia did not attend this G20 summit, India, as the host, naturally took center stage, and the U.S. and other Western countries played a significant role. Under much pressure from the West, the G20 summit communiqué finally mentioned the Ukraine conflict, emphasizing the importance of respecting national sovereignty and territorial integrity. However, India did not condemn Russia, and the communiqué stated that the G20 summit was not an appropriate platform for making geopolitical decisions. Clearly, India expressed its views cautiously while balancing the interests of various parties.

However, even as the current relationship between the U.S. and India is praised by both parties, the U.S. has already begun to evaluate on the situation, as well as India’s stance and policy choices on geopolitical issues.

In fact, there are several areas of disagreement between the nations, with one significant difference being their views on the Russia-Ukraine conflict. The U.S. has condemned this war, but India has yet to do so to date. Moreover, since the outbreak of the Ukraine conflict in February 2022, India has purchased a substantial amount of discounted Russian oil, with approximately 40% of India’s current crude oil supply coming from Russia. American think tank experts have noted that given U.S. concerns about the Russia-Ukraine conflict, U.S. leaders hope to see something different from India in this area. Optimistically, the U.S. and India may find some cooperation space on the Russia-Ukraine conflict issue, but it is also important to recognize that this is an area of disagreement between the two countries.

Researchers at ANBOUND point out that the warming of U.S.-India relations is related to a shared goal they have, i.e., handling China. After the U.S. adjusted its national security strategy, its national security concern shifted from terrorism to strategic competition between nations, with China being its foremost long-term strategic competitor. Under this strategy, the U.S.’ geopolitical logic is clear, that is to build an extensive united front encircling China with its allies and partner countries. These encirclements encompass political, economic, technological, military, and educational aspects. They take various forms, including traditional multilateral organizations (i.e., NATO, G7, EU), new multilateral frameworks (i.e., Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, the U.S.-Japan-Netherlands alliance, AUKUS, the U.S.-Japan-India-Australia Quadrilateral Dialogue, among others), as well as various bilateral mechanisms (U.S.-Japan, U.S.-South Korea, U.S.-Philippines, etc.). After years of relentless efforts, coupled with changes in the international situation following the Ukraine conflict, these approaches against China have gradually taken shape.

Is China a competitor for India? Although India has not officially designated China as a strategic competitor, there have been longstanding tensions and rifts in their relations. Additionally, the two countries have a history of a minor war in 1962, which means there are inherent instability factors in their relationship. From April 27 to 28, 2018, Chinese President Xi Jinping invited Prime Minister Modi to an informal summit in Wuhan, hoping to build a new chapter and pattern in bilateral relations. From public reports, the two leaders had good communication and reached some consensus. Unfortunately, the subsequent development has largely deviated from the consensus and aspirations reached at that time. Xi’s absence from the G20 summit in New Delhi is a reflection of the current state of India-China relations. These changes, along with India’s ambition to become a global power, have led India to choose its current path in the relations between the two nations.

However, is India willing to attach itself to the U.S. uncritically? Researchers at ANBOUND do not believe so. India does share common goals with the U.S. when it comes to dealing with China and has joined initiatives like the Indo-Pacific strategy, the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, and the Quad that the U.S. is promoting, and is willing to be a supporting pillar in these mechanisms. That being said, as a South Asian powerhouse with global ambitions, the world’s most populous developing nation, and a country aspiring to become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, India will not willingly become deeply attached to the U.S., as the Philippines or Japan might.

Since the Nehruvian era of non-alignment, India has been shaping its national image and influence on the international stage. After Modi took the helm of India, he successfully combined strong leadership with Indian nationalism, thereby reinforcing India’s image as a major global power. To some extent, India has elevated its national image, particularly during a period of global geopolitical turmoil, making it a developing nation that is sought after by multiple major powers and blocs. Benefitting from this environment where it is in demand, India has continuously gained advantages, including geopolitical status, improved diplomatic relations, energy, foreign investment, and more.

Even if the U.S. offers more incentives, India is unlikely to abandon its ambition of becoming a great power. In our view, apart from India’s sense of independence, extreme nationalism and social currents within the country are also influencing and shaping the future of Indian politics. When nationalist ideologies and sentiments become extreme, they often turn into a strong double-edged sword. If not controlled properly, they can become a tool with significant internal and external harm. Such ultra-nationalist sentiment in India is continuously challenging the philosophy of non-violence espoused by Mahatma Gandhi. Western countries are indeed concerned about this change. Despite being democratic nations, Western countries view India’s style of democracy and governance through somewhat biased lenses.

Final analysis conclusion:

Given the current geopolitical situation in the world, the overall relationship between India and the U.S. is moving toward a historically close period, while India’s relationship with China is relatively at a low point. Based on practical interests, India has accepted the partner status conferred by the U.S. and Western nations, as well as mechanisms like the Indo-Pacific strategy and the Quad. In the future, there may still be significant friction in India-China relations. However, as a nation with a strong sense of independence, ambition to become a great power, and increasingly intense nationalist sentiments, India is unlikely to form a truly close alliance with the U.S. but will use it to gain more benefits. The future of India-China relations will likely be observed based on this assessment, and it remains to be seen the developments in the geopolitical situation.

He Jun is a researcher at ANBOUND


Anbound Consulting (Anbound) is an independent Think Tank with the headquarter based in Beijing. Established in 1993, Anbound specializes in public policy research, and enjoys a professional reputation in the areas of strategic forecasting, policy solutions and risk analysis. Anbound's research findings are widely recognized and create a deep interest within public media, academics and experts who are also providing consulting service to the State Council of China.

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