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Countering China’s Expansionism - Balancing Diplomatic Interests

India and China are leading powers in Asia, trying to outmanoeuvre each other. China's recent ascent to prominence as a global force has presented India with serious problems regarding territorial conflicts as well as the larger picture of regional stability and strategic influence. India is careful to maintain the balance between diplomatic engagement and diplomacy to protect its national interest and resist Chinese expansionist endeavour.

An Illustration on Countering China's Expansionism

Illustration by The Geostrata

This necessitates an intricate understanding of the historical, political, and economic factors that influence the dynamics between these two Asian giants. India's territorial issues with China, particularly those along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Himalayas, are a focal point in their bilateral relations as neighbours. Border clashes, like the one in the Galwan Valley in 2020, highlight the underlying tensions and possibility of escalation between the two nuclear-armed states.

But India's response to China's aggression goes beyond merely resolving territorial conflicts. It is part of a larger plan to maintain its power in the area and battle off China's expanding influence in South Asia which has a bearing on Indian interests.

This entails strengthening alliances with countries that share similar values, improving military prowess, and using international forums to express concerns about China's aggressive expansionism.

India's diplomatic strategy, however, isn't entirely based on conflict. Understanding the interconnectedness in areas like investment and trade, India has made a careful effort to interact with China on several fronts. Even with its imbalances and frequent chaos, the bilateral trade relationship is nonetheless crucial to the economic stability of both countries.


China has presented itself as a regional hegemon while further envisaging itself as a world hegemon by involving developing economies especially those from Africa in its diverse intercontinental development projects. China intends to create a network of African states that are obliged to service their debts by accessing their resources, trade opportunities and locations for military bases to extract crucial raw material and fuel its economy while also taking over important regions for its military use through unilateral disputes with neighbours.

China has been pursuing expansionist designs, by actively pushing its border disputes with all its neighbours except Pakistan. Moreover its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) falls under the Chinese theory of expansionism and dependency.

Containment, engagement, and encirclement are other strategies pursued by China. The US and China are employing all means at their disposal—economic, diplomatic, military, and institution-building—to realise and sustain their vital national and regional interests. China asserts that it poses no threat to regional stability, but uses military operations in the air, on land, and at sea, along with grey zone tactics to exert pressure on its neighbours in Southeast Asia, building artificial islands in in the disputed and contested territories of South China Sea South China Sea to increase their military presence and dominating strategically important region to name one.

On the one hand China asserts that it adheres to international law while on the other, it undermines UNCLOS and an international tribunal's ruling over its South China Sea claim.


China's territorial claims have constantly changed to suit its strategic needs. They acknowledged two alignments (settlements) before the war with India, one in 1959 to take over further land in eastern Ladakh and the other in September 1962. However, they invaded and occupied much more territory following the conflict in 1962 than they had claimed in September of the same year. This conflict has its roots in 1914 where to establish Tibet's borders and its connections with China and British India, the Simla Treaty was signed.

The McMahon Line, which was put up as part of the Shimla Treaty, was crucial to the development of the border disputes between China and India. The Chinese refusal to accept the McMahon Line, a line that was legitimised by the Simla Convention of 1914, is significant due to differences over the text.

China withdrew from the conference, and the British Indian and Tibetan representatives removed Chinese privileges. If China had accepted the Simla Convention, it would have ratified Tibetan sovereignty, contrary to the Chinese claim over Tibet as part of its territory. Due to differing interpretations of historical documents and maps, this dispute ended up in the war with China in 1962. The ongoing implementation of this approach from the Chinese side is the cause of multiple border standoffs between the two nations.

Some recent examples are Depsang (2013), Chumar (2014), Doklam (2017), and Galwan (2020).

In addition to taking hold of the land, China looks to solidify its gains by building infrastructure and habitating villages, like the one just 11 km away from the LAC ranging around 250-300 houses to assert residential claims. They settled the border issue in Myanmar along the same McMahon Line but they didn't settle with their Indian counterpart, which clearly indicates a deliberate lack of political will to settle the disputes with India.

Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India has made known to the world in direct words its ambition to become a major world power and has accordingly been making advances in various spheres, both economic and defence, acquiring superior military capability by obtaining military hardware from diverse sources, and becoming aatmanirbhar in defence.

Even though China tries to undermine India in various ways, such as by vetoing Indian-sponsored resolutions to blacklist terrorists, funding Pakistan's military, incursions into the Bay of Bengal via survey ships, etc, India has balanced itself on a global level and tried to deepen its relationship with its neighbours.

Listed below are some of the forums where India is balancing out the challenges posed by China in a multi-domain competition:

  • Quad: India, Japan, Australia, and the United States form the Quad, a group of four nations united in their desire to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific region. This organisation is framed to stand strong against any scope of Chinese assertion in the Indo-Pacific by furthering cooperation in common areas of interest among the partners in the region.

  • Act East Policy: PM Narendra Modi’s “Act East” policy (a successor of the erstwhile Look East policy), focuses primarily on connecting India to Southeast Asian nations including Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam through increased trade, connectivity, defence, culture, and bilateral and multilateral people-to-people contact and addressing common regional challenges. Strengthening ties with the ASEAN nations and engaging in multilateral forums such as the East Asia Summit, and Mekong Ganga Cooperation further consolidate India's diplomatic outreach.

  • India-Middle East-Europe Corridor (IMEC): This project is considered a way to connect India to the Middle East and Europe by bypassing the standard Suez Canal route; it was proposed during the G20 Leaders’ Summit 2023 in New Delhi. It has two separate corridors: the east corridor connects India to the Gulf, and the northern corridor connects the Gulf to Europe. It focuses on increasing economic cooperation and efficiency, reducing costs, securing regional supply chains, increasing trade accessibility, generating jobs, and lowering greenhouse gas emissions, resulting in a transformative integration of Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. 

  • Economic diplomacy: India has started focusing more on attracting investments by providing better incentives and building trust with good governance, which attracts companies and global investors. Post-Covid, investors perceive India as a better destination for their investments compared to China, and it has become a better investment destination than China as more and more investors and foreign firms are pursuing a China plus one policy, which has been exacerbated by the zero Covid policy of China and the ensuing economic crises. The zero COVID policy in China also led to the global realisation of its vulnerability, supplemented by US-China tensions, while providing a broad scope for investments in the Indian manufacturing industry.

  • Necklace of Diamonds: India has been developing a "Necklace of Diamonds” to counter the Chinese "String of Pearls." China is building naval bases as a "String of Pearls'' in several nations, including Somalia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and other South and Southeast Asian nations, to expand its military network and influence in the Indian Ocean Region. India's notable investment that has had a significant impact on China is at Sabang, Indonesia, which is located at the mouth of the Malacca Strait, responsible for the passage of 80% of Chinese oil imports, hence discomforting them. Furthermore, the bilateral agreement between the Government of India and the Government of Singapore to grant the Indian Navy permission to dock at its Changi Naval Base is a bone of contention for the Chinese trade traffic through the strait. Additionally, India is developing the Chabahar port in southeastern Iran extremely close to the Chinese-funded Gwadar port in Pakistan, which will serve as a peer competitor as well as help India monitor maritime activities of China in the Persian Gulf. Lastly, the Indian Navy has been granted permission to dock at Duqm port in Oman which is a crucial maritime depo for trade passing from the Strait of Hormuz into the Arabian Sea.


How India handles the current situation will determine how it will be perceived in the region. This situation has lessons for India. First of all, we cannot associate domestic politics with national security issues as it hinders pragmatic decision-making.

Secondly, political decision-makers need to realise that international relations are not solely dependent on the personal connections between leaders or the intelligence of party officials or doctrines.

India stands ready to have constructive conversations with every stakeholder involved to foster communication, understanding, and collaboration. Furthermore, South Asia's role has grown more significant as the Indo-Pacific region becomes the epicentre of geopolitical turmoil and the new Cold War front lines become more obvious.




2 commentaires

Urgent need to counter Chinese presence in the region. Collaboration now more than ever.


Chinese expansionism is a great issue for Indian diplomacy, interesting to see how India has countered the issue

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