COVID-19 and India-China Equations: Examining their Interface in the Indian Ocean Region

Swaran Singh
School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Vol. 15 (2021): 111–132 | Download PDF


The last two decades have seen the spread of diseases that frequently trigger transnational crises. None of these, however, have inflicted a global ruination and fear like COVID-19. Its onset threatened to reset human life, including interstate relations. This health crisis triggered deep economic recession, led to widespread unemployment, accentuated social tensions and political polarization, and helped reshape geopolitical alignments worldwide. In this crisis, the world’s largest nations, China and India—together home to more than a third of humanity—had a special responsibility. Their effectiveness in combatting COVID-19 at home and in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) was contingent upon their bilateral equations, which had seen irritants and even multiple violent face-offs in the midst of pandemic. The pandemic has not just carried implications for their success or failure at home and abroad but has also become a test case of their mutual, decades-long trust-building efforts and resultant subtle synergies. In face of their different development levels and trajectories and their varying efficacy of their strategies in redressing COVID-19, this pandemic both germinated and showcased strengths of their expanded mutual stakes. This article uses complex interdependence theory to assess how, in midst of the pandemic and border tensions, India and China have managed to come to a modus vivendi. It first outlines a few novel trends that showcase their coordination in providing COVID-19 assistance among IOR nations. It briefly discusses each country’s response to the health crisis, its impact on India-China equations, and examines their interface in the IOR to identify sinews of cooperation in midst of confrontations and crisis. It elucidates how prompt and ‘parallel’ India-China assistance in IOR’s fight against Covid-19 revealed signs of expanded interdependence and an improved coordination that can enable them to mitigate and manage their future conflicts.


COVID-19, China-India, Indian Ocean, mutual mistrust, border