Jun. 8 – As the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit comes to a close, it has become increasingly clear that China and India have actively been trying to reinvigorate bilateral ties. After years of “hiccups” in their relations, Chinese and Indian officials have taken the opportunity to discuss the ways in which they can expand cooperation in new areas.
On the sidelines of the SCO summit this week, Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna met Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi to discuss the state of Sino-Indian relations. The two countries confirmed they would touch on the issue of trans-border rivers, and the potential to establish more consulates in each other’s regions. Both China and India have expressed a keen interest to open official diplomatic consulates in cities that have a high-number of their native companies.
“The External Affairs Minister’s observation is that the relationship is going more smoothly than before, and Yang Jiechi agreed with him,” said Indian Ambassador to China S. Jaishankar.
In a further show of goodwill, four Indian navy ships will dock in Shanghai next week – marking a key step in building trust in the maritime domain amid China’s increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea and Indian Ocean. Krishna and Yang also discussed the future of maritime relations, with a meeting soon to be held aimed at increasing cooperation in seabed research and in combating piracy.
These developments in Sino-Indo ties come at a time when the United States has been actively trying to improve its relationship with India to support its pivot towards the Asia Pacific. India, however, has not been as susceptible to U.S. pressure. For example, Krishna tried to dispel the belief that India’s foreign policy is influenced by the United States by citing India’s support of the international North-South transport corridor – a project which is opposed by the United States.
During U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s recent visit to India, he expressed that India could act as a “lynchpin” in the strategic U.S. pivot towards the Asia Pacific. India, however, has not been very forthcoming with this offer. Instead, India is more interested in purchasing U.S. arms, and would rather follow its historical tendency to not align itself with major powers.
During Panetta’s visit, senior Indian officials made it clear that India will set its own security priorities apart from the United States.
“We’ll never be an alliance partner with the U.S.,” said Lalit Mansingh, a former Indian Ambassador to Washington. “The limit is a partnership.”
Demonstrating intelligent diplomacy, India is trying to strategically place itself between the regional competition of the United States and China, rather than overtly aligning with either side. India has to find the middle ground between its prosperous relationship with the United States and the growing threat of China’s regional power.