China’s growing maritime presence in the Indian Ocean and India’s increasing sea interactions in East Asia is shifting the focus of Sino-Indian bilateral relations from land to sea. The Carnegie–Tsinghua Center for Global Policy welcomed Carnegie's C. Raja Mohan to discuss his latest book Samudra Manthan: Sino-Indian Rivalry in the Indo-Pacific. Following Mohan’s presentation, Ma Jiali, the executive deputy director of the Center for Strategic Studies at the China Reform Forum, and Lou Chunhao, a researcher at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, discussed the state of Sino-Indian relations. Carnegie-Tsinghua’s Matt Ferchen moderated the discussion.

Discussion Highlights

  • Mutual Dependence on the Ocean: The newly globalized Chinese and Indian economies both have a crucial relationship with the sea, since the ocean now plays a direct role in the survival of Chinese and Indian domestic economic welfare, panelists said. For example, China imports crucial mineral resources from Africa and trades with Europe through the Indian Ocean. This represents a substantial fundamental structural shift; before, the two nations’ economies were more isolated from one another.
  • Shift From Land to Sea: Although the Sino-Indian relationship has traditionally been focused on land-based issues, the maritime dimension is becoming increasingly important in bilateral ties, panelists concluded. As a result, China and India need to anticipate points of maritime friction and find constructive ways to avoid them. Panelists suggested possible options for avoid friction, including increasing maritime engagement and creating a framework for a broad and cooperative maritime strategy rather than focusing on border issues.
  • China Looks West, India Looks East: The Indian Ocean is becoming a priority for Chinese trade and security, discussants commented. Chinese naval activity has expanded its presence in the Indian Ocean while Indian naval activity has begun venturing into East Asian waters as India seeks to expand its trade interests in the Pacific. As a result, China and India will naturally shift the focus of their bilateral relationship from land to sea. This changing dynamic also contributes to the rising importance globally of the Indo-Pacific region, they added.
  • Naval Interactions: As both countries’ navies grow in size and influence, guidelines should be established for interactions in the region, especially with the U.S. Navy, panelists said. Joint naval exercises have existed since 2003 but discussants agreed that deeper cooperation is necessary, particularly in the Indian Ocean. Open communication can preempt any misunderstanding of China’s intentions in the region.
  • Maritime Silk Road: Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the new “maritime Silk Road” connecting China, Central Asia, and India during his first Southeast Asia tour. Mohan emphasized that the corridor between northern Myanmar, eastern India, and southern China is key to establishing the maritime Silk Road. Such a trade route could serve as a positive step in better maritime cooperation between China and India.