Can China Keep India Silent Over the South China Sea?


The upcoming G20 summit provides China a unique chance to chance to demonstrate China’s “good intentions” as a responsible stakeholder. To facilitate the summit, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited India over the weekend for strategic communications with Indian side. According to Wang, China and India reached an important consensus that both states should firmly support each other in hosting the upcoming G20 Summit in Hangzhou, China and the BRICS Summit to be held in Goa, India.

China, like many other developing states, desires to portray itself as “responsible power” through various international platforms. Among the many international bodies, the G20 and BRICS are of special significance given their role in a constructing a multipolar world order that gives the developing world more of a voice. China was awarded of the presidency of G20 at the closing of the G20 Brisbane Summit in 2014. This will be the first time that China chairs the world’s “premier forum for international economic cooperation.”

On the one hand, for the Communist Party of China (CPC), hosting the G20 summit will be a valuable chance to strengthen its legitimacy domestically, given China’s decelerated GDP growth, widening income gap, and the rising public pressure for “political reform,” which the CPC government resists. On the other hand, the G20 will be an important platform for China to attract world attention and to showcase China’s “responsible” image around the world. Through actively attending the newer established forums such as G20 and BRICS, China is both seeking changes to the “traditional” global economic governance model, centered upon the Bretton Woods Institutions, and experimenting with new processes such as the BRICS forum and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

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Given the importance of the event, Beijing has spared no effort in preparations. Domestically, China has spent nearly $100 billion (according to the budget reports from China’s Foreign Ministry, Ministry of Commerce, and Ministry of Finance) for stadium construction, international business trips, security arrangements, and urban renewal. Internationally, China has to win international support for the G20 Hangzhou summit in order to avoid having “critics” from other G20 members harm China’s image, both internationally and domestically.

As a member of G20, India is viewed by China as a competitor in regional and international platforms, both economically and politically. The most sensitive issue between China and India in the G20 would be the South China Sea. India insists, especially under the Narendra Modi government, on upholding the principle of “freedom of navigation and commerce” in South China Sea, a position it shares with the United States. India has even been viewed by Vietnam and the Philippine as an important ally to resist China’s territory claims in the South China Sea.