In a welcome show of assertiveness, India is standing up to Chinese pressure in Southeast Asia, as well as closer to home.
A series of recent events underscore this message. During meetings with Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang earlier this month, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reiterated plans for the state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Company to begin joint oil exploration with Vietnam in a contested block of the South China Sea claimed by both Vietnam and China. During Myanmar President Thein Sein’s visit to New Delhi last weekend, India extended a $500 million credit line to Myanmar for infrastructure-development projects. This announcement is likely to increase Chinese heartburn caused by Myanmar’s abrupt decision to halt a $3.6 billion Chinese dam construction project on the Irrawaddy River in late August. In September the Indian foreign ministry called for China to halt infrastructure and development-related projects in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, which India regards as part of its territory. Reinforcing the message on borders, PM Singh visited the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh twice this summer, underscoring Indian sovereignty over territory that the Chinese call southern Tibet.
These decisions display India’s unwillingness to succumb to Chinese military and diplomatic pressure in the region. China balked when India and Vietnam announced joint oil exploration plans earlier this summer, declaring the plan “illegal.” The People’s Daily, mouthpiece of the Communist Party, warned both countries to be cautious of jeopardizing their economic relationship with China over “small interests in the South China Sea.”
In late July, an Indian ship returning from Hanoi was reportedly harassed by the Chinese navy. The Indian foreign ministry let the Chinese off the hook but simultaneously reaffirmed the view that the South China Sea comprises freely navigable international waters, refuting Chinese claims to the contrary. The Chinese government denied the incident.
This display of firmness is a welcome sign that India will not submit to China’s unreasonable demands in Asia. Ahead of next month’s East Asia Summit, it ought to bolster the confidence of smaller countries in the region that are also facing growing Chinese pressure.