Asia Politics

India has 'lots of options' to strengthen its international position to counter China's influence, analyst says

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Key Points
  • India has plenty of options to strengthen its diplomatic position that can counter the tense relationship between New Delhi and Beijing, James Crabtree, an associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore, told CNBC.
  • The Asian powerhouses are locked in a bitter standoff in the remote Ladakh region in the Western Himalayas and military officials are set to hold high-level talks on Saturday to ease tensions, according to reports. 
  • India on Thursday said it upgraded its bilateral ties with Australia to a comprehensive strategic partnership, which includes strengthening military ties. 
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India is finding ways to put pressure on China's rising global influence, says expert

India has plenty of options to strengthen its diplomatic position in order to counter its tense relationship with China, according to a political analyst. 

The Asian powerhouses are locked in a bitter standoff in the remote Ladakh region in the Western Himalayas, and military officials are set to hold high-level bilateral talks on Saturday to ease tensions, according to reports.

India is reportedly building a strategic road in the area and connecting the region to an airstrip, the Associated Press said. China objects to that move and as tensions escalated, thousands of soldiers from both side faced off in the area just a few hundred meters from each other, according to the news agency

Border skirmishes are increasingly common as both countries test each other's positions from time to time by building new roads and other defense infrastructure in disputed territories, James Crabtree, an associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore, told CNBC's "Street Signs" on Friday. 

He explained that as India and China grow in power and influence, they are clashing with each other in an increasing range of areas. Unlike the United States, New Delhi does not have the ability to suddenly turn to an anti-China campaign as India is the "weaker power" — both militarily and economically, Crabtree said. 

He said one way that New Delhi can give itself leverage against Beijing is by improving its bilateral relationships with other countries that are similarly worried about China's growing influence — such as Australia, Vietnam, Japan, and even the U.K. He warned that India needs to be careful to avoid antagonizing Beijing because it can "create all sorts of trouble."

"Nonetheless, India has lots of options," Crabtree said. "That's the nice thing about this new, slightly chaotic international environment – that lots of other countries want to be friends with India." 

India has also become closer to the U.S. over the last two decades, both militarily and politically, he explained.

U.S. President Donald Trump and India Prime Minister Narendra Modi have met several times and recently, the American leader invited Modi to attend the next G-7 summit.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hold a meeting at UN Headquarters in New York, September 24, 2019, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.
Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

India and Australia on Thursday announced that the two countries had upgraded their bilateral relations to a comprehensive strategic partnership that includes strengthening military ties. 

If India plays its cards right and develops an adept form of international diplomacy with its many suitors, it should be able to "find a way, reasonably successfully signaling to China that it has options, and that China would be wise not to escalate these situations too far," Crabtree said. 

For its part, China is flexing its geopolitical muscles on multiple fronts including the South China Sea, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Crabtree said the skirmishes with India has become a part of that push.

Experts have outlined several reasons for Beijing's recent moves.

"On the one hand, it's an effort to distract the domestic populace from issues at home, which is leading to heightened sensitivities against outside criticism of China — like India's call for an origin investigation (of the coronavirus)," Kelsey Broderick, China analyst at political consultancy Eurasia Group, told CNBC. 

On the other hand, Beijing views the pandemic as an opportunity to stake its claims to greater global leadership given that the U.S. is bungling its own response domestically and internationally, Broderick said.

"Part of being a leader, for Beijing, seems to be flexing its muscles over its own territory, in addition to a soft power," she added.