Shuxian Luo is currently a second-year MA student at SAIS, concentrating in China and Japan Studies. Her study and research focus on US-China relations, Chinese foreign policy, Asia-Pacific maritime security, Chinese military modernization, Sino-Japanese relations, US-Japan relations, etc. Prior to SAIS, Shuxian worked as a news reporter in Los Angeles. She earned her BA in English linguistics and literature from Peking University.
“Same Goal, Different Trajectories: China and India’s Naval Modernization from a Comparative Perspective”
Since the 1990s, as China and India have become rapidly integrated into the global economy, the need for a modern blue-water navy has loomed large with their increasing reliance on sea lines of communication (SLOCs) for trade and energy supply, growing desire to establish dominance in areas regarded as their “maritime backyards,” and the need to protect their growing global interest. On the other hand, both countries have wrestled with similar constraints, including the longstanding dominance of their armies and competing “guns or butter” choices.
Notwithstanding these critical similarities, China and India’s naval modernization has demonstrated very different trajectories. China has prioritized “near-sea” defense capabilities and modernized it navy at a stunning pace, whereas India emphasizes power projection capabilities but has carried out its naval modernization at a relatively modest speed.
At first glance, the development gap between China and India seems to offer a plausible explanation for the differences in their naval modernization. Economic power, while a key enabler of military modernization, fails to address some key questions in this discrepancy: Why did China and India choose to prioritize different types of naval capabilities? Beyond economic factors, are there other factors that have decisively influenced their paces and scopes, and arms acquisition patterns? Have the two countries’ priorities changed over time or will they change? To what extent does the ‘string of pearls” versus “necklace of diamonds” depiction capture the nature of the two countries’ simultaneous modernization?
I seek to answer these questions by examining two factors. The first is the threat perception of each country, which offers a clear explanation for why China and India chose to prioritize different capabilities. The second is the availability of potential allies, which helps explain why China and India’s naval modernization has proceeded at different speeds and scales, and through different arms acquisition sources.
This study concludes that China and India’s simultaneous naval modernization was started to address their differing security priorities, and not a naval arms race in and of itself. However, as the balance of power continues to shift as a result of the rise of China and India, the ‘string of pearls” versus “necklace of diamonds” rivalry can be a self-fulfilling prophecy in the near future.