February 5, 2015 5:51 AM EST

India and China’s Growing Rivalry

In 2016, India’s economic growth will outpace China’s, according to the International Monetary Fund. This is as much about China’s recent slowdown as it is about India, which should grow faster simply because its economy is much smaller. But at a moment when China is accepting slower growth to restructure its economy, India’s revival–due in part to the reforms planned by Prime Minister Narendra Modi–is welcome news for the world.

Yet Modi wants India to be more than a powerful economic engine. He wants a country that is assertive on the international stage. During U.S. President Barack Obama’s three-day visit to New Delhi in January, the two leaders spoke of strengthening ties between their countries after decades of missed opportunity. Obama insisted that “America can be India’s best partner” in the 21st century. A beaming Modi spoke of a “natural global partnership” that is needed “in our world of far-reaching changes and widespread turmoil.”

Not everyone is pleased. Just as Washington watches for signs that China and Russia might make common cause at America’s expense, hints of closer ties between India and the U.S. set off alarm bells in Beijing. Adding to China’s anxiety, Modi is building stronger commercial and political relations with China’s other heavyweight rival, Japan. The possible alignment of Washington, Tokyo and New Delhi into a sort of axis of democracies has seized the attention of China’s leaders and military planners.

They should be concerned–China and India are natural rivals. Unlike Japan, India is an emerging market, competing directly with China for inbound investment and access to resources. Disputes over the flow of rivers between India and China will determine the access of both countries to fresh water and hydroelectric power.

And India, much more than Japan, has a military capable of projecting power in Asia. It’s already the world’s largest importer of arms, and Modi would like it to become a leading exporter. He has moved to sell weapons and military equipment to Vietnam and the Philippines, countries with which China remains openly at odds in the South China Sea. India and Vietnam are also expanding their trade in energy. For Beijing, New Delhi’s outreach to Hanoi further fuels fears that better relations with the U.S. and Japan will make India more aggressive at China’s expense.

India and China don’t have to become enemies. Tokyo and Beijing have recently managed to defuse tensions between themselves despite enmity that goes back decades. But if competition with China becomes a conflict–whether economic or military–India’s long-overdue rise might exact a considerable cost on a relationship now squarely at the heart of the world’s most economically important region.

Foreign-affairs columnist Bremmer is the president of Eurasia Group, a political-risk consultancy

CYPRUS

‘If it’s right for me to be free, then it’s right for all of them to be free.’

PETER GRESTE, an Australian journalist for al-Jazeera who was imprisoned in Egypt for 400 days until his unexpected release on Feb. 1. Greste, speaking in Cyprus the day after being deported from Egypt, voiced concern for two of his colleagues–one Canadian Egyptian and one Egyptian–still being held. The three were jailed for their coverage of the government crackdown on Islamist groups, but their convictions were overturned on Jan. 1 after protests by human-rights groups and foreign governments.

DATA

A BRAND- NEW FLAG

[This article consists of an illustration. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF for actual illustration.]

Fiji said on Feb. 3 it would redesign its flag to shed symbols of the colonial era. Here are some other national-flag makeovers:

Burma

The military adopted a new flag after drafting a new constitution

1974–2010

NOW

Georgia

The flag of the 2003 Rose Revolution became the national banner

1990–2004

NOW

Rwanda

The country redesigned its flag to reflect unity after the 1994 genocide

1962–2001

NOW

The Toll of War

SYRIA

A man at a field hospital provides medical assistance on Feb. 2 to a victim beside two injured children, after what activists said was an air strike by government forces in the Duma suburb of Damascus. Since the conflict between President Bashar Assad and rebel groups began in 2011, more than 200,000 people have been killed and nearly 4 million have fled the country.

ROUNDUP

The Arab Countries Fighting ISIS

On Feb. 3, Jordan’s government confirmed the death of a Jordanian pilot at the hands of ISIS after a gruesome video was posted online of the airman being burned alive. The death of Lieutenant Muath al-Kaseasbeh, whose F-16 crashed in Syria in December, is the most prominent suffered by the Sunni Arab countries taking part in U.S.-led coalition air strikes, with possible repercussions for those key partners:

Jordan

King Abdullah pledged to retaliate despite the country’s relatively limited military reach. The U.S. said on Feb. 3 that it would boost aid to Jordan by $340 million.

UAE

The United Arab Emirates, which condemned the killing, will still be seeking reassurances from the U.S. after reportedly pausing air strikes in December over concerns that its pilots were at risk.

Saudi Arabia

ISIS is suspected in a January attack on the border, and newly crowned King Salman, a former Defense Minister, is expected to keep his air force on the offensive.

Bahrain

The Gulf state, a strategic U.S. partner that hosts the U.S.’s Fifth Fleet, has so far played a largely symbolic role in the fight against ISIS but denounced al-Kaseasbeh’s murder as “despicable.”

AUSTRALIA

20 MINUTES

The time it took for tickets to sell out for the Feb. 15 cricket World Cup match in Adelaide between India and Pakistan; India has won all five World Cup matchups in the emotionally charged rivalry since the tournament began in 1975

Trending In

HEALTH

Scientists have begun to provide two experimental vaccines against Ebola to 30,000 volunteers in West Africa as the World Health Organization focuses on ending the epidemic after the weekly number of new cases dropped below 100 for the first time in six months.

NEGOTIATIONS

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, whose anti-austerity party, Syriza, was swept into power last month, visited the U.K., France and Germany to try to strike a deal to ease his country’s debt load and ensure future support before the current E.U. bailout expires on Feb. 28.

SCIENCE

Britain voted on Feb. 3 to become the first country to allow “three-parent” in vitro fertilization, a technique used to prevent inherited diseases, which takes DNA from a mother, a father and a female donor; the practice has drawn opposition from religious groups.

This appears in the February 16, 2015 issue of TIME.

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