Managing U.S.-China Rivalry: India’s Non-escalatory Reinforcement

Managing U.S.-China Rivalry
India's Non-escalatory Reinforcement

by Frederic Grare
January 21, 2020

This chapter examines how India manages the tensions between the U.S. and China vis-á-vis its own independent efforts of balancing China while maintaining some form of cooperation.



The intensification of the rivalry between the U.S. and China does not change the nature of the challenges to India’s interests. It does, however, exacerbate the tensions and potential contradictions within Indian foreign policy. This is particularly true with regard to India’s relations with China. China’s growing rivalry with the U.S. does not substantially alter its differences with India, but in a context of growing polarization, this rivalry tends to transform those differences into leverage points for China to try to weaken the links between India and the U.S. Similarly, it does not affect the congruence between U.S. and Indian objectives but does strain the condition under which this congruence could be translated into actual cooperation.

  • India’s strategic, political, and economic interests converge with those of the U.S., and New Delhi will not do anything that may undermine Washington’s position vis-à-vis China so long as U.S. policies will not affect major Indian interests. It could therefore be counterproductive for the U.S. to be excessively transactional or try to coerce India into policies that are detrimental to its regional interests.
  • Possible U.S. frustration will be subtly compensated for by India mobilizing capacity around U.S. objectives in places where the U.S. is quasi-absent. The inclusion of the East African shores in the Indian concept of the Indo-Pacific should be understood in this perspective.
  • The slow pace of Indian economic reforms generates questions regarding India’s ability to manage its power asymmetry with China. The U.S. should therefore manage its own expectations and incentivize, rather than coerce, India to reform.

Frédéric Grare is a Nonresident Senior Fellow in the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

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