!" shouts the headline in one Indian paper. India
China to open first military base in Indian Ocean."
Nothing to worry about, says the defence ministry in
. The base - in the Beijing - is just for supplying passing Chinese navy ships. Seychelles
But seen from
Delhi, it is another move in what a former Indian defence minister has called 's policy of "strategic encirclement". China
Even as Indian diplomats insist they want "cordial ties", tensions are rising everywhere between the two giant Asian neighbours, in what looks increasingly like a new "great game" - with the US and other powers upping their stakes.
Washington hosts diplomats from India and for a first ever "trilateral dialogue" of the "three leading Pacific democracies". Japan
An increasingly assertive
is clearly their main focus. China
The Great Game was a term coined for the shadowy battle for influence and control in central Asia between
Russia and the British empire.
Yet even as the latest round plays out in
, this new and less-noticed Asian great game could be of far greater global importance - and pose more dangers. Afghanistan
Another frequent irritant in the relationship - the Dalai Lama, who lives under Indian protection
It is already provoking regular media hostilities, the Chinese papers lashing out at
India as "jealous" of 's success, after the former Indian defence minister's broadside. China
While playing down the chances of real conflict, a senior Indian diplomat admits: "There is a trust and a perception deficit" between the two.
Nearly 50 years after they fought a brief border war,
Delhi and still cannot agree on much of their nearly 4,000km (2,500 miles) of frontier, with an arms race happening on both sides. Beijing
A regular border meeting was recently cancelled because of disagreements over another frequent irritant in the relationship - the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who lives under Indian protection.
This is bound to be an "adversarial" relationship, says
's foreign secretary until last year. Shyam Saran, India
But what he calls
's "hierarchical' outlook" makes it more difficult. China
"It wants to be on top, maybe not to dominate territory, but to have veto power over any of its neighbours' policies it doesn't like."
Just like the original great game, this is a battle on many fronts, being fought with aid, investment, politics and culture - from
Pakistan (a long-time Chinese ally) to Nepal, and across South East Asia.
But paradoxically, part of the reason for relations "getting more complicated" is "because they are getting closer", says Jonathan Holslag, a
expert at the Brussels Institute of Contemporary Studies. China
India and China is expanding, but it is imbalanced in 's favour. China
And with its greater economic weight, it is going "all out in its cheque-book diplomacy", says Mr Holslag, with
struggling to compete. India
But while it could not stop the Seychelles hosting China's new base, India drew the line earlier this year when Nepal - landlocked between the two giants - contemplated accepting $3bn (£2bn) worth of Chinese investment.
China already has firm foundations there, recently upgrading the Friendship Highway across the Himalayas between Kathmandu and Lhasa in . Tibet
Work is now under way on a railway link, with nothing comparable from the Indian side.
US still appears unable to decide whether to treat as a partner… as far as technology matters are concerned.” India
Senior Indian diplomat
Beijing's point of view, India is helping in what it perceives as an emerging policy of containment. US
Next week's meeting will only heighten these suspicions, coming soon after
US President Barack Obama's announced plans to send US marines to Australia's northern coast - facing . China
Indian officials though play down an incident in the summer when a Chinese ship is reported to have warned an Indian ship to leave the area.
There is no question of
India being used as "a cat's paw" by the , according to the senior Indian diplomat. US
And despite better ties,
India remains cautious about how close it gets to , says Mr Saran, because of a perception that it is still not willing to share enough. Washington
US still appears unable to decide whether to treat as a partner… as far as technology matters are concerned," he says. India
Watering down nationalism
India and are now nuclear-armed helps concentrate minds against war. China
Along their border, the most likely flashpoint, things have been quiet for more than 30 years - despite or perhaps because of the military build-up
"Not a bullet has been fired, not a soldier lost," says Indian foreign ministry spokesman Vishnu Prakash.
Yet some see dangers in the continuing war of words in the Indian and Chinese media.
Jonathan Holslag says that although it is only "25% real, it plays up nationalist sentiment and reduces the scope for making compromises".
If economic growth slows much more in either
India or - and there are already signs - that could spell trouble, encouraging nationalism that could turn "nasty". China