China and India have been stepping up their summit diplomacy. It is necessary to pay close attention to the impact that their bilateral relationship, beset with thorny territorial problems, will have on Asia’s security environment.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi held talks on the occasion of the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Qingdao, China, last month. Xi advocated “maintaining strategic communications,” while Modi said that India is ready to advance bilateral relations continuously.

It was the third face-to-face dialogue between the two leaders since September last year. In light of the fact that troops of both countries had been locked in a hair-trigger situation in border areas for more than two months, they agreed, during their talks in April, to set up a hotline between the defense authorities of both countries. Such moves to ease tension are welcome.

China’s antagonism with the United States has been escalating over bilateral trade. It is obvious that Beijing is aiming at mending its strained relations with neighboring countries, including India and Japan, to solidify its diplomatic foothold.

Modi is looking toward the general elections to be held in his country in the first half of next year. He probably wants to have China’s investment into his country increase, advancing infrastructure development, such as electricity and roads, and accelerating economic growth.

Bilateral cooperation between the two countries has been given stark expression in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), a China-led international financial institution. During the annual meeting of the AIIB held in Mumbai in June, Modi emphasized his policy of utilizing the AIIB for the development of the country’s infrastructure.

Clarify ‘Indo-Pacific’ strategy

The value of investments and financing approved by the AIIB since its inauguration two and a half years ago has totaled $4.6 billion, with those extended to India totaling as much as $1.4 billion, which is conspicuously high among its member countries.

While it might be a cause for concern if China and India were to become too close to each other, it would be difficult for the two to build a stable relationship based on their economic ties alone.

The cause of the political conflict between the two countries lies in the “One Belt, One Road” initiative, China’s scheme of establishing a huge economic zone. India has been wary of China increasing its influence in the Indian Ocean, through such projects as the development of ports in India’s neighboring countries of Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

Both Japan and the United States advocate the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy,” aimed at maintaining the maritime order from the South China Sea to the Indian Ocean. In order to warn against China’s self-serving activities, it is important for the two countries to cooperate with India, which shares such values as the rule of law and democracy.

Such activities as joint drills between the Maritime Self-Defense Force and the naval forces of the United States and India should be expanded. Promotion of economic cooperation between Japan and India, such as the construction of high-speed railways, is also essential.

It is worrisome that among Japan, the United States, Australia and India, the four countries that constitute the core of the Indo-Pacific Strategy, there are differences in the degree of enthusiasm in connection with their perception toward China. India is worried about the strategy turning into, in effect, an encirclement around China.

The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump should expedite its efforts to draw up a concrete security policy based on the strategy so that countries concerned, including India, can actively participate in the strategy.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun/ANN)