Strategic Analysis

Strategic Analysis:
A Monthly Journal of the IDSA

February 1999 (Vol. XXII No. 11)

China’s Long March to World Power Status: Strategic Challenge for India
By Gurmeet Kanwal *


“China’s lips say they have no expansionist ambitions. But their body language says, ‘Get out of the Way’.”
— Douglas Paal
(President of the Asia Pacific Policy Centre)


Emerging Geo-Strategic Environment

The global socio-economic and political system is caught up in the throes of change. The concept of the nation-state, the most basic building block of the global system, is itself changing. The world is witnessing the rise of fissiparous tendencies along ethnic and sectarian lines. Ethnic disharmony, rebel movements and insurgencies threaten approximately one-third of all the present members of the United Nations (UN). National borders are becoming increasingly porous; currency rates are threatening to go out of control of the central banks; imports and immigrants are moving freely across the world and terrorists, guns and drugs are threatening to undermine the sovereignty of nations.

Though the United States (US) has been basking in the glory of the “unipolar moment” 1 since the end of the Cold War, the international order is gradually, but inexorably, changing to a polycentric system. The US, Japan, the European Union (EU), China, Russia, India and, possibly, some other regional groups, are likely to be the primary centres of power in the first century of the new millennium, but with significant asymmetries of power and capabilities amongst them. The focus of international relations and national attention is also shifting markedly towards economic and trade issues on the one side, and the challenges of human development on the other. The focus of UN efforts in peace-keeping and peace-enforcement is veering towards providing humanitarian succour through peace-support operations. In such an environment, the likelihood of nuclear and high intensity conventional “all-out” wars stands reduced.

Post-Cold War US dominates the international environment as an economic and military superpower. The US propagates and, where necessary, unreservedly enforces its own security and economic perceptions and interests. Its strategies of “Engagement and Enlargement” and “Counter-Proliferation”, as well as advocacy and creation of pressure points in respect of human rights, economic liberalisation, nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and Fissile Materials Cut-off Treaty (FMCT), are unabashedly geared towards the sole aim of maintaining its primacy and its interests in all spheres.

China, which is already the largest power in Asia, is gradually emerging as a major global power and will acquire formidable economic and military capabilities in the first few decades of the 21st century. Its growing economy is expected to overtake the US economy between 2020 and 2050. Its strategy of “four modernisations”, formally adopted in 1978, is bearing fruit and is leading to fairly rapid, though regionally skewed, development and modernisation, including of the armed forces. In recent years, the Chinese have stressed the need for “comprehensive national strength” in determining the country’s role in international affairs. Their concept of national defence is no longer limited merely to the defence of territory but has been expanded to include the seaboard and outer space. The erstwhile strategy of coastal defence has been converted to a strategy of “Oceanic Offensive”. The emphasis on bolstering naval and air forces stems from a desire to project power well away from China’s shores.

Russia and China have recently entered into a new strategic partnership for peace, ending three decades of bitterness and distrust fostered by ideological confrontation and the Sino-Soviet border war. While Russia advocates a new multipolar world order based on a Russia–China–India triangle to counter US domination and for peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region, the Chinese view is that only the US, Russia and China are real global powers and that in the Asia-Pacific region, security and stability should be based on a China–India–Japan triangle. 2 Exhibiting its determination to play a greater geo-strategic role and to counter what it perceives as increasing US hegemony, Russia’s Prime Minister, Yevgeny Primakov, offered to form a “strategic triangle” along with India and China during his talks with the Indian Prime Minister at New Delhi in December 1998. While India responded in a lukewarm manner to the proposal, China dismissed it out of hand. 3


China’s Relations with World Powers

US–China Relations

In view of its economic interests in China, the US has changed its public stance from “containment” to “engagement”. However, in US perceptions, a stronger and prosperous China is proving to be even more unpredictable and defiant. The Chinese have repeatedly violated non-proliferation assurances to Washington. Continued nuclear and missile supplies have been reported to Pakistan and Iran. US relations with Taiwan are a major stumbling block in improvement of relations with mainland China. The US has made no major headway in its quest to ensure better adherence to human rights by the Chinese government, particularly in Tibet and Sinkiang. The Chinese stand on important geo-strategic issues is not in conformity with US global and regional power calculations. Other US concerns include Chinese nuclear and missile proliferation and reports about the development of a 12,000 km range Chinese ICBM. 4 Hence, while advocating “engagement” and a strategic partnership, the US is clearly actively continuing to pursue a policy of “containment” by allying with Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and by making gradual inroads into the Central Asian Republics (CARs) by way of trade and joint military manoeuvres. In fact, some analysts believe that an incipient Cold War between the US and China has already begun. 5 Hence, relations between the US and China are “more turbulent than is commonly perceived and the manner in which these competing compulsions are played out among the two states, will provide a clue about how the Asian canvas will be punctuated in the next century.” 6

Russia–China Relations

Sino–Russian relations have improved steadily since the May 1989 summit meeting at Beijing. The Moscow Declaration signed in mid-April 1977 is apparently aimed at working towards the creation of a new multipolar world order and ending US domination. The Moscow Declaration also signifies a major shift in Russian foreign policy in the Asian direction. Seeking to counter US clout and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s (NATO’s) eastward expansion, Russia is looking for new strategic partners in Asia and China is foremost among them. Russia, China and three CAR nations (Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan) have also signed an agreement to reduce troops along their common 7,000-km-long border, so as to reduce tensions and to make the border area more secure and tranquil. The new Russia–China friendship is also grounded in economic self-interest. Trade between the two countries increased sharply by approximately 25 percent in 1996–97.

ASEAN–China Relations

The ASEAN countries have had centuries old links with China and almost all have a sizeable Chinese population. While the ASEAN countries do not see a major military threat from China, they are wary of China’s burgeoning economic might and cultural dominance. China would like to extend its influence into South-East Asia and sees the area as an emerging market for its products. The South China Sea is a potential flashpoint that merits concern due to the conflicting claims of China and other countries on the Spratly and Paracel Islands. Chinese attempts to dominate the area are increasingly becoming more urgent. While the ASEAN nations have joined the US in propagating constructive engagement with China, they continue to have reservations and harbour misgivings regarding China’s long-term intentions in the region.

Consequent to the merger of China with Hong Kong in August 1997, China’s influence in South-East Asia can be expected to increase further. The reunification of Taiwan with mainland China is a major long-term foreign policy objective of China. The issue is likely to remain a flashpoint in future. Chinese officials have gone on record to state that a declaration of independence by Taiwan will invite a severe Chinese reaction.

Indo-China Relations

India and China have recently agreed to work towards a constructive and cooperative relationship, while continuing to address outstanding differences. The two countries also share the assessment that friendly and good neighbourly relations between India and China best serve the fundamental interests of the people of both countries. In December 1996, during President Jiang Zemin’s visit, the two countries signed a new Agreement on Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), as a sequel to the Agreement on the Maintenance of Border Peace and Tranquillity (BPTA) signed at Beijing in September 1993 which is, arguably, the fist real arms control agreement in Asia. The 1996 CBMs agreement stipulates mutual restrictions on troop and weapon deployments, Army field exercises with troops and Air Force exercises in the proximity of the LAC. Three other agreements were also signed on the Maintenance of India’s Consular Establishment in Hong Kong, Cooperation in Combatting Illicit Drug Trafficking and Other Major Crimes and on Maritime Transport.

Prospects of cooperation in Central Asia were also discussed. China softened its stand on the Kashmir issue to one of neutrality between India and Pakistan and expressed guarded support for India’s endeavour for a permanent seat in an expanded UN Security Council. India conveyed its concern regarding the Chinese sale of missiles and other weapons to Pakistan and China’s assistance in Pakistan’s nuclear and missile development programme.

However, consequent to India’s nuclear tests at Pokhran in May 1998, relations between the two countries deteriorated due to the reference to China as a threat to India in an official Indian letter to the US government. The US State Department apparently deliberately leaked the letter to the Press. After several heated exchanges, the dust appears to have settled on that unsavoury episode and discussions are again in progress to re-schedule the postponed next round of the Joint Working Group meeting. Overall, the Indo-China relationship is based on a balanced and mature consideration of geo-political realities. There has been a steady improvement in relations between India and China since the end of the Cold War. India’s new External Affairs Minister, Jaswant Singh, has also been conciliatory in his remarks on India’s relationship with China during his first Press conference in December 1998. This augurs well for short-term stability on the borders and for rapidly increasing the level of trade between the two countries. Border trade between the two countries has been re-opened after nearly three decades. However, the continued lack of progress in expeditiously settling the long-standing territorial dispute between the two countries, does not send encouraging signals for long-term stability and, in fact, has the potential for escalating once again to a border conflict. It is well known that China claims that the reunification of Arunachal Pradesh is a sacred duty for its military. A possible future reversal in the present policies being followed by the Chinese government could create serious problems for India’s security.


Internal Dissension in China

China’s paradigm shift to a free, open market economy, while retaining the authoritarian governance system of Marxist Communism, has not been without problems. The pro-democracy movement, which resulted in the Tiananmen Square massacre, did not peter out completely. Latent aspirations for democracy and human rights are again beginning to rise to the forefront in the post-Deng era. At the same time, members of the old guard with Maoist leanings, have denounced President Jiang’s proposal to transform some large and medium scale state-owned enterprises into share holding companies. They are not in favour of moving too quickly down the road to capitalism.

While China’s economy has grown at over 8 percent annually for almost a decade, it must be noted that China’s prosperity is not widespread. China’s economic miracle has been by and large limited to the prosperous provinces on the eastern coast. The hinterland, which comprises relatively backward agrarian communities, has been completely ignored. An exodus of the rural population to urban centres is already discernible. A “revolution of rising expectations” is likely to take root in these areas in the coming decades. This will generate new tensions and vitiate the internal security environment.

The strident march of Islamic fundamentalism has entered China through the predominantly Muslim province of Sinkiang. There have been frequent riots and clashes with the police during the last six months. Although China has responded with a heavy hand, including a few summary executions, the disturbances are not yet under complete control. Similarly, from Tibet also, frequent reports of defiance and clashes continue to emanate and simmering discontentment is apparently widespread among the people. Here too, aspirations for democracy and functional autonomy are likely to take stronger root in the first few decades of the 21st century.

Although China cannot be said to be in the throes of dramatic ethnic upheavals, it is beginning to see the emergence of fissiparous tendencies with long-term ramifications. Though the ethnic minorities number only about 5 percent of the population, in numerical terms their strength is considerable—approximately 55 million.


China’s National Security Strategy

Consequent to the break-up of the Soviet Union and with steady improvement in China’s relations with the countries on its periphery, China’s threat perceptions vis-a-vis individual neighbours have undergone major change. Broadly they are now described in terms of “border wars”, “regional wars”, “conflicts in defence of China’s maritime claims” and “opposing global hegemony”.

Since 1985, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has been instructed by the Central Military Commission (CMC) to plan, train and equip the forces for regional and local wars and military crises around the Chinese periphery, instead of focussing on preparations for an early and major nuclear war, as was the case earlier. Taiwan, the South China Sea and the Indo-China border have been mentioned in the past as possible theatres for such local conflicts. The Chinese are also increasingly concerned about the continued tension on the Korean Peninsula. India continues to be viewed as one of the target countries with which border conflicts are a probability. In the long run, all indicators point towards a clash of strategic interests between India and China in the 21st century.

The salient aspects of China’s proclaimed national security strategy are as under: 7


Long-Term Strategy

China’s emergence as a major global power is now recognised internationally. Its own aspirations to become a world power are equally well stated, as also its continued belief in the balance of power paradigm. Consistent with this goal, China is likely to seek to enhance and maintain military power credible with such a position. It follows that China will deter smaller neighbours and endeavour to dissuade more powerful rivals. Until it is able to complete this process and concurrently stabilise its economy and internal polity, China will continue to seek a period of peace and tranquillity without which these objectives cannot be achieved. Such a “benign” attitude also facilitates its image as a more responsible and mature world power. However, its long-term strategy is clearly to become the dominant economic and military power in the Asia-Pacific region and a major power internationally.


Strategy Towards India

While China professes a policy of peace and friendliness towards India, its deeds clearly indicate that concerted efforts are underway aimed at the strategic encirclement of India. For the last several decades, China has been engaged in efforts to create a ring of anti-Indian influences around India through military and economic assistance programmes to neighbouring countries, combined with complementary diplomacy. Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka have been assiduously and cleverly cultivated towards this end.

China has gained strategic advantage over India by progressively making India’s neighbours dependent on her to a large extent for their defence supplies. It has supplied Pakistan with technical assistance in the joint development of the MBT–2000 (Al Khaled). In addition, the Chinese have supplied T–59/T–69/T–85 tanks, heavy artillery guns, antiaircraft gun system, SAM and other defence related equipment to Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar. China’s supply of critical nuclear technology and M–9 and M–11 missiles to Pakistan has been well documented.

In recent years, Chinese involvement in Myanmar has escalated substantially. China has also supplied a variety of arms and missiles to Iran and even to Saudi Arabia. While China’s direct support for counter- insurgency movements in India’s north-eastern states and in Jammu & Kashmir has definitely dwindled, China is seeking to keep India strategically “engaged” through its neighbours. The large-scale supply of cheap small arms (rifles, hand grenades, rocket launchers, pistols, ammunition and even SAM–7 surface to air missiles) to regimes inimical to India, is an ingenious method of indirect involvement as these small arms are eventually supplied by agencies such as the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan to insurgent groups in Jammu & Kashmir and the north-eastern states of India.

The expansion of Chinese influence into Myanmar 8 is of particular concern to India as it gives the Chinese the potential to deploy their sea power in India’s maritime areas of interest, and to eventually directly threaten India’s eastern flank. Developments regarding the establishment of a Chinese electronic listening post in the Coco Islands, just off the northern tip of the North Andaman Island, assistance to the Myanmar junta to improve and develop naval ports and facilities on the Arakan coast and military assistance to the government, are well known.

Also, other competitive elements are inherent in the relationship as both countries compete for foreign investments and markets for their products in the next 15 to 20 years. China considers itself to be economically and technologically ahead of India and, with its permanent membership of the Security Council and nuclear power status, a far more important player in international fora. However, China is likely to continue to cooperate with India in areas where it feels its interests converge with those of India.

China’s foreign and defence policy initiatives are quite obviously designed to marginalise India in the long-term and reduce India to the status of a sub-regional power by increasing Chinese influence and leverage in the Southern Asian region. While China is likely to continue its present stance of improving relations with India as a period of “peace and tranquillity” will enable China to consolidate both economically and militarily, it is unlikely to countenance India’s aspirations to become a major regional power in the Asia-Pacific region. Hence, the potential for military conflict will always exist and will, in fact, increase as the armed might of China increases. As such, an analysis of the military aspects of the Indo-China relationship is important.


Military Aspects of the Indo-China Equation

In the ultimate analysis, a pragmatic threat assessment must take note of “capabilities” and not of “intentions” as the latter are subject to change. China loses no opportunity to emphasise that its defence policy is defensive in nature, that China will neither try to occupy an inch of foreign territory nor pose a threat to any country, that China will never seek hegemony, that China’s prosperity will only benefit world peace and stability, that the threat from China to India is totally groundless and that China is now fully engaged in its economic construction. It is with this aim in view, say Chinese officials, that China is attempting to consolidate its diplomatic ties with neighbouring countries, including India, and is also attempting to develop an understanding on the global plane, including with the US. All this seemingly points to a stable and peace-loving China stepping gently into the 21st century as a responsible nation.

However, concurrently, China has embarked upon the consolidation and development of its military capabilities. As against an inflation and rupee-dollar parity adjusted average annual decline of more than 10 per cent in the Indian defence budget over the last 10 years, the Chinese defence expenditure shows a net increase of 12 to 20 per cent per year over the same period. China’s defence budget for 1996–97 was US $ 30.27 billion. 9 It is also significant that unlike India’s defence budget, which is maintenance intensive and has only a small component for capital expenditure, the sub-allotment in China’s defence budget is fairly balanced between modernisation and maintenance. In this context, aspirations to gradually upgrade the PLA Navy to a “Blue Water” status, to acquire mid-air refuelling capability, deep penetration strike and strategic lift transport aircraft for the PLA Air Force, are relevant. The PLA has also been engaged in increasing the number of rapid deployment units and in improving mobility and logistics support capability, while simultaneously upgrading the ability to undertake all-weather operations, improve air defence capability and institute modern command and control systems. All these endeavours aim to create a modern fighting force capable of undertaking swift offensive operations in areas away from China’s borders.

The Gulf War of 1991 convinced Chinese military strategists that the war of the future is most likely to be localised, fought to achieve limited political objectives and won by whichever side is better able to concentrate high-technology forces at some distance from the national borders in a decisive strike. 10 A recent Pentagon report to the US Congress 11 highlighted that the present Chinese doctrine, though defensive in nature, requires the PLA to develop a limited offensive and force projection capability, including the option of a pre-emptive military strike. The report also brought out the PLA’s exceptional interest in information warfare at the operational and tactical levels of war in recent years, as also its belief in electronic warfare as the fourth dimension of ground, naval and aerial combat.

From these inputs, it can be deduced that China, while expressing its willingness and desire to maintain stability in the region for the present, is consolidating its military capabilities so as to be able to play a larger regional and international role in the 21st century. This will ensure that China becomes a credible modern military power by about 2010–15. Beijing has often used force in the past, although primarily to counter perceived threats to territorial borders. 12 This vital aspect cannot be ignored while carrying out a threat assessment for the first few decades of the 21st century.

India’s diplomatic efforts to improve relations with China are progressing steadily. CBMs at the military level are in place and more such measures are being gradually agreed upon. The recent agreement includes the important aspects of desisting from using military force against each other and to reduce regular forces on the LAC. However, there has not been much real progress in translating diplomatic agreements into tangible military measures on the ground. Also, actual moves to settle the long-standing territorial dispute have so far been slow. Quoting diplomatic sources, Anil K. Joseph writes, “China appeared to have taken a hard line towards India with a ‘strong pro-Pakistan lobby working in the People’s Liberation Army to scuttle all attempts’ to put bilateral relations with India on an even keel.” 13 Even the delineation of the LAC on the ground is proving to be an intractable measure. 14

It is not well appreciated that the two sides have varying perceptions of the precise locations on the ground and on the map of several points on the LAC in Ladakh, Uttar Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh. This in itself is a potentially conflict prone situation. The Nathu La incident in 1967 and the Wangdung stand-off in 1987, were two occasions when the Chinese Army in Tibet attempted to test the resolve of the Indian Army and, on meeting a firm Indian response, discreetly withdrew. Such incidents cannot be ruled out in future as long as the LAC is not clearly delineated physically on the ground. During 1997 and 1998, there were a number of Press reports about “sporadic Chinese military incursions, particularly at new points” into Indian territory across the LAC. 15 China apparently does not wish to actively pursue physical delineation of the LAC as such a course would tantamount to Chinese acceptance of India’s sovereignty over Indian controlled areas, particularly Arunachal Pradesh.

It is in India’s interest to focus its diplomatic efforts to expedite the physical delineation of the LAC, including the exchange of mutually acceptable marked maps showing the respective military positions, for two reasons. Firstly, in conventional weapons and present force levels, the Indian Army is in a position of strength along the LAC. Secondly, the gap between India and China in overall military potential, particularly that in strategic weapons, is increasing rapidly in China’s favour. China is also actively engaged in substantially upgrading the military infrastructure in Tibet. China’s present capability of building up and sustaining 20 to 25 divisions in Tibet over two summer seasons is likely to go up to 30 to 35 divisions by 2010–15. Hence, in later years, China is likely to be even less inclined to accept Indian perceptions of the LAC.

Another factor of concern to India is the emplacement of Chinese nuclear-tipped missiles in Tibet, reportedly first brought to the Tibetan plateau in 1971. 16 While these missiles may have been targetted against the Soviet Union till recently, the present Russia–China rapprochement would make such targetting illogical. The mere presence of Chinese nuclear-tipped missiles in Tibet poses a direct and most serious threat to India as these missiles (DF–2, DF–3, DF–4 and, possibly, DF–5) are capable of reaching all Indian cities. 17 Beijing has been very effective in hiding details of the number of missiles actually deployed. India lacks the technological means to track and pinpoint the exact locations of these missiles or any others in the Lanzhou-Chengdu region and at the Datong and Kunming missile bases which may have the potential to reach and target Indian cities. This shortcoming needs to be overcome as early as possible through an Indian military intelligence satellite and by the acquisition of intelligence through humint means.


India’s China Strategy

China continues to be in occupation of, and lays claims to, large areas of Indian territory. An undelineated LAC and the unresolved territorial dispute are long-term destabilising factors. A border conflict, though improbable, cannot be ruled out. The recurrence of Wangdung type incidents remains likely. The China–Pakistan nexus in the nuclear, missiles and military hardware fields poses both economic and military threats. China’s continuing efforts aimed at the strategic encirclement and containment of India are a potential source of competition and rivalry and, perhaps, even conflict. China’s growing power and influence in Asia is a strategic challenge for India as, eventually, Indian and Chinese economic interests will clash, particularly in the South-East Asian markets.

India would have to be watchful of China’s increasing involvement in Myanmar, which not only impinges on India’s trade and maritime interests but also has adverse geo-strategic implications in the long run. China’s sale of sophisticated military technology to Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar, and the possibility of it acquiring naval bases, and overland and air routes to such bases, are areas of concern for India’s security. China is quite obviously seeking to enlarge its sphere of influence to South-East Asia and the Bay of Bengal. These aspects need to be constantly monitored and vectored into India’s strategic calculations.

A resurgent and militarily strong China may eventually attempt to force a military solution to the long-standing territorial dispute. It is noteworthy that the upgradation of the military logistics infrastructure in Tibet is continuing at a steady pace. China has been actively engaged in “building new roads, supply lines and airfields close to the Indian frontier.” 18

When weighed against the evidence of the not-so-subtle attempts at strategic encirclement, the present improvement in bilateral relations and paying lip service to military CBMs, can only be interpreted as a temporary phenomenon designed to give China the breather that it needs for its economic development and military modernisation programme. Though India’s relations with China have improved in recent years, the fundamental issues of concern and friction continue to remain unaddressed. Hence, it is obvious that China will continue to be a major security concern for India as it becomes even more economically and militarily powerful in the next 10–15 years.

India, therefore, needs to ensure the development of adequate military capabilities to be prepared to meet the threat from China. In the short-term, the requirement is to ensure the sanctity of the LAC, that is, effective border management, while maintaining an adequate dissuasive conventional military strength. India must step up its diplomatic efforts to seek early resolution of the territorial dispute, particularly the immediate delineation of the LAC physically on the ground and on the map. Efforts to develop military infrastructure in the border areas for the speedy induction of forces, need to be stepped up to ensure that local conflagrations can be immediately addressed when the need arises. The requirement and efficacy of a rapid deployment force needs to be examined and implemented if found desirable. India must maintain a strong capability to defend island territories in the Bay of Bengal and to safeguard national interests in the Exclusive Economic Zone. Diplomatic efforts to increase India’s influence in the CARs, Myanmar, Nepal, Bangladesh and with the ASEAN countries should be pursued vigorously. Many analysts have been recommending a more assertive policy on the question of Tibetan autonomy, the honourable return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet and early resolution of the issue of thousands of Tibetan refugees in India, a socio-political time bomb which may explode quite unpredictably, and India’s growing concern at the violations of the human rights of the Tibetan people. 19 These core concerns on Tibet should be vigorously pursued in interlocutions with the Chinese.

The long-term requirement is to match China’s strategic challenge in the region and develop a credible military deterrence against the use of nuclear and missile weapon systems. Threats posed by nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles cannot be countered by the deployment of land forces and conventional air power alone. Nuclear weapons are best deterred by nuclear weapons and, as a logical corollary, only missiles can deter missiles. Hence, India must develop, test and operationally induct Agni–I and Agni–II IRBMs into the armed forces (under a tri-service Strategic Forces Command) so as to be able to upgrade its present strategic posture of “dissuasion” to one of a genuine credible “deterrence” against China. The acquisition of air-to-air refuelling capability to increase the range of India’s nuclear-capable fighter-bomber aircraft is an inescapable urgent requirement. Realistic deterrence against China can only be achieved by developing a demonstrated capability to target major Chinese cities such as Beijing and Shanghai with nuclear weapons.



China’s emergence as a major world power, with widespread economic and security interests, is a reality, which has to be accepted. Any attempt to isolate or contain China is unlikely to succeed. Such an attempt will also have adverse repercussions. India should endeavour to realistically balance China’s power through developing its own economic and military strength and through strong relationships with neighbouring countries in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), the ASEAN countries and the CARs. In recent years, India–China relations have acquired maturity and substance. With China, India should continue to seek a relationship providing stability and peace for mutual benefit. The relationship should aim to realise the potential for favourable growth where it exists, for example, in trade and commerce, while not allowing areas of difference to cast a shadow over the whole relationship even as these areas are addressed squarely. Such a “twin track” approach is likely to yield the best results. Due to their dominant positions and status in Asia, India and China cannot remain immune to the logic of collective self-interest. It is in the mutual interest of both countries to work towards building a strong, prosperous, self-confident and self-reliant Asia.

It is in India’s interest to work towards an unequivocal recognition of the fact that all political differences and hitherto unresolved problems are amenable to solution through a spirit of constructive bilateralism. India and China need to develop a mechanism for consulting and deliberating on issues on the emerging global agenda. These include the elimination of nuclear weapons, economic protectionism, pressure on labour standards, intellectual property rights, pace and scope of privatisation, intrusive and pointed invoking of the human rights issue and the global environmental agenda, among others.

In the economic sphere, the pace and quantum of economic growth should be sustained through the granting of Most Favoured Nation status to China by India and vice versa. India should continue to support China’s entry into the World Trade Organisation (WTO). However, India must insist on the removal of restrictive trade barriers. Also, measures need to be instituted to enhance border trade through the land route with Tibet.

Simultaneously, India must be militarily prepared to deal with China from a position of strength. There is no need to be either hawkish or wimpish in relations with China and no need to fear China militarily. However, there is every reason to seriously consider the impact of China’s rising power in Asia and the manner in which that power may be used by China to further its national interests. This must be publicly articulated and discussed rationally with China. Only then can China’s emerging challenge be dealt with pragmatically.



*: Senior Fellow, The Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.  Back.

Note 1: See Charles Krauthammer, “The Unipolar Moment”, Foreign Affairs, Summer 1991, pp. 23-24.  Back.

Note 2: “China, Russia Differ on India’s Role in ‘Multi-polar’ World”, Times of India, April 28, 1997. See also Siddharth Varadarajan, “China and Russia Get Together to Defy Pax Americana”, Times of India, April 30, 1997.  Back.

Note 3: See “Russia’s ‘Triangle’ Idea Targets US Hegemony, Say US Experts”, Times of India, December 29, 1998.  Back.

Note 4: C. Uday Bhaskar, “Undercurrents of Tension: Redefining Sino-US Relations”, Times of India, November 26, 1998.  Back.

Note 5: S.D. Muni, “The Emerging Cold War in Asia : India’s Options”, Strategic Analysis, March 1997, pp. 1599-1612.  Back.

Note 6: Bhaskar, n. 4.  Back.

Note 7: Yan Xuetong, “Orientation of China’s Security Strategy”, Contemporary International Relations, vol. 6, no. 2, 1996, pp. 2-5.  Back.

Note 8: Jasjit Singh, “Why Nuclear Weapons”, Nuclear India, (New Delhi: Knowledge World, 1998).  Back.

Note 9: Jasjit Singh and Swaran Singh, “Trends in Defence Expenditure”, in Jasjit Singh ed., Asian Strategic Review 1996-97, (New Delhi: Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, September 1997), p. 72.  Back.

Note 10: Ron Montaperto, “China as a Military Power”, Strategic Forum, no. 56, December 1995.  Back.

Note 11: T.V. Parsuram, “China Building Pre-emptive Military Strike Capability”, The Observer of Business and Politics, November 5, 1998.  Back.

Note 12: Michael D. Swaine, “Don’t Demonise China”, The Washington Post, May 18, 1997.  Back.

Note 13: Anil K. Joseph, “China Not Serious on Mending Ties With India,” The Observer of Business and Politics, September 23, 1998.  Back.

Note 14: Brahma Chellaney, “Rapprochement Gone Sour”, Hindustan Times, December 30, 1998.  Back.

Note 15: Ibid.  Back.

Note 16: W.P.S Sidhu, India’s Security and Nuclear Risk Reduction Measures, (Washington: The Henry L. Stimson Centre Report, November 1998).  Back.

Note 17: Ramesh Chandran, “New Chinese Missiles Target India”, Times of India, July 11, 1997.  Back.

Note 18: Chellaney, n. 14.  Back.

Note 19: N.K. Pant, “China: the Tibet Syndrome”, The Tribune, December 11, 1998.  Back.