Bridging Differences: China-India Relations in 2023 and Beyond

Reflections on China-India relations in 2023 have inspired cautious optimism for a more positive trajectory in 2024.
by Zhou Xin

Recent years have witnessed fluctuations in China-India relations, marked by border clashes between the two countries and challenges faced by Chinese businesses in India. In 2023, the bilateral relationship stayed stable and quiet, devoid of major conflicts or breakthroughs. Both nations maintained communication channels from leadership to grassroots levels, nurturing economic ties and cultural exchange. Furthermore, collaboration in international affairs persisted.

Diplomatic engagements continued, including a meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the BRICS Summit on August 23, 2023. According to a spokesperson from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the two leaders engaged in a candid and in-depth exchange of views on current China-India relations and other issues of shared interest.

Moreover, the 23rd Meeting of the Council of Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization was held online on July 4, 2023. Chinese President Xi Jinping attended the meeting via video link. From September 9 to 10, 2023, the 18th G20 Summit was held in the Indian capital, New Delhi. Chinese Premier Li Qiang attended the event and delivered a speech.

The boundary question has been essential to China-India relations in recent years. In 2023, communication continued despite persisting disagreements. In February, May, and November, China and India held the 26th, 27th, and 28th meetings of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on China-India Border Affairs. In April, August, and October, the 18th, 19th, and 20th rounds of the China-India Corps Commander Level Meeting were held at the Moldo-Chushul border meeting point.

Hostility has lingered among Indian policymakers regarding Chinese business activities in India. Shortly after Xiaomi received relief in early October 2023, when Indian authorities announced the release of approximately 4.8 billion yuan (around US$685 million) frozen funds held in Indian banks and lifted restrictions on the company’s operations, Vivo, another prominent Chinese mobile phone manufacturer, encountered its own adversity. Two months later, several executives from Vivo India including its interim CEO and CFO were facing arrest by the Enforcement Directorate of India.

 A spokesperson from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that India should recognize the mutually beneficial nature of China-India economic and trade cooperation and facilitate a fair, just, transparent, and non-discriminatory business environment for Chinese enterprises investing and operating in India.

Another prominent issue appeared to be the treatment of each other’s journalists in the two countries.

On May 31, 2023, a spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs highlighted the prolonged unfair and discriminatory treatment faced by Chinese media reporters in India. Indian authorities have imposed unreasonable restrictions on visa matters for Chinese resident journalists. In response to this enduring and unjust suppression, China deemed it necessary to implement suitable countermeasures to safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese media organizations.

Statistics showed a slight decrease in China’s exports to India and a reduction in the trade deficit for India. According to data from the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, from January to November 2023, India’s exports to China increased from US$16.25 billion in 2022 to nearly US$17 billion. Conversely, China’s exports to India decreased from US$108.64 billion in 2022 to US$107.27 billion. India’s trade deficit with China was reduced by about US$2.12 billion compared to the same period last year.

People-to-people bonds between the two countries persisted. From September 23 to October 8, 2023, the 19th Asian Games took place in Hangzhou, eastern China’s Zhejiang Province, at which Indian athletes secured a total of 107 medals: 28 gold, 38 silver, and 41 bronze. This achievement positioned India fourth in the overall medal tally, marking a historic breakthrough. These exciting moments and sweet memories in the minds of Indian people will remain flavored by the host city Hangzhou and its hospitality. On November 9, 2023, the Round Table Conference for Presidents from Universities in China and India was held at Yunnan Minzu University. It was attended by leaders from a dozen universities in the two countries. They engaged in in-depth discussions and exchange on China-India higher education cooperation.

Reflections on China-India relations in 2023 have inspired cautious optimism for a more positive trajectory in 2024.

The author of this article is a commentator for this publication.