India's Geopolitical Outreach: Implications

India will seek to expand its geopolitical reach over the coming decade and beyond, to compete more effectively with a rising China. In a major feature published in our online service earlier this week, we explain in detail how New Delhi will do this.

Beijing is now actively positioning itself to become a global superpower, having become more assertive in its maritime territorial claims in the South China Sea since 2010, and formally promoting since 2013 its 'One Belt One Road' vision of enhanced transport connections across Eurasia and the Indian Ocean. Moreover, China's development of ports in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan since the 2000s has raised concerns in India that Beijing is seeking to encircle New Delhi, geopolitically.

Against this backdrop, India will, in our view, pursue a three-pronged strategy of 1) securing its eastern flank through resolving border disputes and shoring up ties with immediate neighbours; 2) cooperating with China in areas of mutual interest, such as managing disputes over their shared border, and combating terrorism; and 3) competing with China in western Asia and the Indian Ocean, which is shaping up to be a major nexus between Asia, the Middle East, and Africa in the twenty-first century.

India will also increase defence cooperation with the US, Japan, and potentially Vietnam, which are all apprehensive about the rise of China and are moving to counteract this. However, India will eschew formal alliances, instead choosing to maintain strategic independence.

Overall, China has a clear head start on India in terms of expanding its geopolitical influence. China has a far bigger economy, is much more economically developed (as measured by GDP per capita), and has far greater financial resources at its disposal than India. For example, Beijing took the initiative in establishing the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) in late 2014. China has long been a permanent member of the UN Security Council, has a bigger military, and is actively seeking to develop a blue-water (i.e. ocean going) navy. Furthermore, China appears to have the ambition to become a superpower.

Nonetheless, Beijing is still far from achieving its strategic goals. If anything, its increasing assertiveness has prompted closer defence cooperation between its neighbours and the US. In addition, China has very few declared allies, with many nearby countries seeking to carefully balance their commercial ties with China with security links with other major powers. Furthermore, China's proposed 'One Belt One Road' faces tremendous political, bureaucratic, logistic, and security obstacles. China's shortcomings thus present India with an opportunity to make headway in countries that are still hesitant about Beijing's intentions.