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China…India – And or Versus

August 28, 2010 by  
Filed under foreign policy, geopolitics

The latest round of events of snapping Defence ties based on rejection of Visa to a General  has cast a shadow over the uneasy relations between the two Asian Tigers and has started a fresh debate on the Sino Indian relations.

The relations between the two neighbours have never been easy at the best of times, ever since the 1962 War. However despite booming trade between the two countries this recent bout of needling appears to be motivated. Of late China has increased the stakes in Arunachal Pradesh and issued “plain paper” visas to Indians born in Jammu and Kashmir. Then there was the uproar about Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh. Increased border violations have been noticed in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh. Chinese activities in Indian neighbourhood – its plans to dam the Brahmaputra and extend the Tibet rail link into Nepal are other aspects of continuing Chinese assertiveness. The operationalisation of rail and additional air infrastructure in Tibet for the first time are again signals of an assertive China.

This post, though not related to the incident perse, throws some light on the dynamics of “and” or “versus” theories in the relationship between the two countries. Then there are colours of American and Pakistan relations painting this relationship.

What we hear least about is the tangled weave of national interests that means China courts Pakistan as a proxy for it’s own competition with India, to the point where Pakistani experts concede that, given a choice between alliance with the US or China, Pakistan’s military will choose China “every day of the week, and twice on Fridays”.

This relationship is at the back of a lot of Chinese man oeuvres in the region to keep America and India at bay.

As per Vikram Sood, the ex Chief of RAW,  US and China have their own geostrategic rivalries to settle, and the Chinese may have assessed that their moment has come.

“Yet China remains concerned with its intricate trade and financial links with the US, and also with the security of its trade and supply routes that transit the Malacca Straits. It has endeavoured to develop extensive land routes through Central Asia, but these are inadequate. It is a matter of time before China will make its presence more visible in the Indian Ocean. It has port facilities in Hambantota and Gwadar, and a presence in the Arabian Sea as it battles Somali pirates. China has expanded its contacts with Iran, more in competition with Russia than the US, it seeks mineral wealth in Afghanistan, its relations with Pakistan need no elucidation and it has developed strong ties with Burma.” This Burmese angle may resolve China’s Malacca Dilemma.

China’s enunciation of its strategic interests in South China Sea and the Yellow Sea through naval exercises as a caution on US – Korean enterprise in Jul 2010 is a reminder that China is now ready to assert itself.  Thus while we may agonise over challenges across our land frontiers, we would be ignoring the new challenge in the Indian Ocean unless we plan countermeasures now. He further articulates that:

China pretty much owns Pakistan and will own Afghanistan within a decade.  India would be better served, in my opinion, by turning its back upon both in their entirety, rather than shackle itself to a ball and chain designed by China. Although national pride demands that something, anything, be “done now” about terrorism, the truth is that such attacks are gnats stinging an elephant, doing more damage by distraction than by the pain they inflict.

The recent concessions by Pakistan to China over the Karakoram highway and now greater autonomy to PLA Army to operate in Gilgit and Baltistan underscores Pakistan’s need to play by Chinese rules in keeping India away. In the bargain connecting China to Iran for gas and trade.

As per this report in BBC, India can match China in next 20 years, if it retains its focus and manages its maritime interests unshackled from the tactical friction on its Western borders.China and India, accounting for roughly 40% of the 6.5bn plus people on Planet Earth, are not merely the two fastest growing major economies in the world at present, but are among the few countries that have continued to expand at a time when the economies of most countries have contracted. The article also asks the pertinent economic question, “Can the lumbering elephant overtake the hyperactive dragon?” But that is an economic assessment of 2009 and even if were to happen, “Can the two march together – geopolitically?”

Check this out for the relationship matrix between India and China:

China has strategically allied itself with Pakistan in a geopolitical move against India which concentrates as much on economics as on military support – although in Pakistan’s military-heavy economy the two are inseparable. For instance, dredging the harbor at Gwadar has given both China and Pakistan an important economic asset as well as China an advance naval base. But the overall aim of Chinese sub-continent policy, and its alliance with Pakistan, is to cut off India’s overland access to Europe, the Middle East and Asia while enhancing China’s own.That’s why Afghanistan is the battleground for these geopolitical rivals. Between Pakistan and China, India is effectively blocked from land routes into the continent, effectively an island should its rivals wish it.

In deference to China and wooing Pakistan for an Afghan exit, America appears to have forgotten India almost entirely. Although Indians must pursue their own strategic independence, that’s no reason why America and India should not have closer ties which would help India see its national interests as more parallel to America’s. In that respect, George Bush got something right and Obama seems to be floundering. However, the American people are howling at the gates of congress to end these trillion dollar, decade-long wars of occupation and aggression, and there is simply no conceivable military solution to any of our problems – whether that’s Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, or even Iran. Diplomacy has to be the way to go.  Huffington Post of 25 Aug explains this. A must read into the political and diplomatic muddle that the triumvirate has gotten Pakistan into.

This is where Obama finds himself in a logjam if he does not take India on board. In the present geopolitical environment America has to find a regional solution to the Afghan mess and think beyond Pakistan. The two names that come to mind immediately are India and China. How,  has been discussed in an earlier post “Afghanistan after America”. Economically though, China is edging past America to be the next super power which complicates this relationship.

Theoretically speaking, the two Asian giants need to come together to make this century a truly Asian one. But there are impediments of geopolitics, suspicion and of course Pakistan. Pragmatic realism demands a multiple track diplomacy with China and USA which fructifies “India and China” rather than “India Versus China”.

The irritants of the present must thus be tackled from a position of equality with clear Quid Pro Quo.


20 Responses to “China…India – And or Versus”
  1. Seema Guha says:

    An enlightening piece.

    Is the continuous needling a reminder that China is abetting Pakistan’s perception management themes as a quid pro quo to services rendered, Gwadar, Gilgit – Baltistan et al.

    You are right America has no choice but to develop along term relationship with India but India on its part must resolve disputes with China diplomatically. That is the only way forward.

  2. Rana Pratap says:

    Given India’s access to the Indian ocean with a quick hop to oil producing states in the gulf, there is no need for India to have pipelines running through any country like at all. It would be a strategic mistake and a total waste of money for a non-renewable resource. Better to focus on nuclear and other forms of energy resources while shipping oil and gas from the gulf. Kashmir is strategic for both India and Pakistan because of water resources, not oil, quite unlike China’s interests. Pakistan especially doesn’t get it.

    Anyway, the turning point is today. China sent in 10,000 PLA troops into Gilgit. Pakistan talks aren’t working at all. Neither is India’s quest for a workable alliance with China. It that part of the Kashmir becomes another Tibet nightmare, future generations are dead on both sides. The only solution left as we speak is for allied forces to dismember and balkanize Pakistan. Coming soon….

  3. Chanakya says:

    This is a perennial debate beyond the North and South block mandarins.

    In an argument over China and India and China Versus India, all rational thought would point towards China and India. But relations between India and China vectored by Pakistan and silently observed by America, point towards adopting very high degree of diplomatic skills on this road. Till we adopt a lateral approach delinking Pakistan from China, the prognosis would remain India versus China in the short term.

    For the long term, do we see a repeat of history where Pakistan hands over Gilgit Baltistan to China on the lines of Aksai Chin?

    • ajay das says:

      China has identified (and even articulated) its long term strategic goals and has put a timeline for securing them. It is pursuing those goals in most focussed manner (idealists even call it in most ‘brazen’ or ‘shameless’ manner. Realists call it in most ‘prudent’ and ‘pragmatic’ manner). While pursuing those goals, its posturing towards most niche players follows the strategic guidance of, “WITH YOU; WITHOUT YOU; DESPITE YOU” – accordingly, it is prepared to collaborate with India (if it furthers its own interests), ignore India and Indian Interests (if engaging it means wasting time & resource) or even overwhelm India and seek its capitulation – political, economic or even military (if India becomes a thorn in its flanks). The first option of collaboration would only be on terms with assured benefits to China. It is imprudent to even think of ‘CHINA AND INDIA’ because the two cannot fulfill their aspirations together. China’s aspirational trajectory is on collision path with that of India. Even if India chooses to change course and significantly moderate its national long term aspirations, it cannot evade competition and collision of interests with those of China. The competition is inherent in our geopolitical existence. It is always going to be “CHINA VERSUS INDIA”. Issue specific short term collaboration may be pragmatic yet, the long term focus for India must remain that of rapidly and holistically enhancing its power (both the hard and sof elements) so as to effectively deter any Chinese action which undermine Indian interests and ultimately, develop capability to pursue own interest “WITHOUT or DESPITE CHINA”. Few pacifists amongst indian strategic community often highlight asymmetries in Sino-Indian economic growth rates; military capabilities; infrastructure etc to make Indian leadership believe the futility of competing with China – ohh, we can’t catch up attitude. Lets remember that POLITICAL WILL which represents NATIONAL WILL in a democracy, is a key component of NATIONAL POWER. China itself is nowhere near to achieving parity with US economic, technological or military might, yet it successfully applies its NATIONAL POWER against the US and other nations – it is more a manifestation of its POLITICAL WILL than the mere summation of its hard and soft elements of power. Let us face it squarely that there is no option for India to compete with China, deter and even overwhelm its anti-India moves. For that to happen, a time-bound caapability enhancement program has to be in place and then pursued. This must be preceded by articulating and stating India’s strategic intent most unambiguously. Simultaneously conditional cooperation may be offered to China on case by case basis. Let us be clear – it is INDIA VERSUS CHINA.

  4. Dear Friends,

    Hi this is Samir a mechnical engineer working with a steel export company since last 15 years ,from New Delhi India , We sincerely believe that peace
    in south Asian region is the only desire by all living in India and
    China , We always wish and hope that top leaders in both the countries
    understand this that
    after centuries our civilization has come to this stage that we can
    dream and work for better life for our citizens , We need to focus more
    on co-operation between technology and human resource sharing so that
    both countries can make better living for all.
    There is no authenticity in who is in number one position in Asia , But
    it is the quality of progress and life that any region can offer to its
    All countries are well equipped with nuclear capabilities and with
    weapon of mass destruction , It should not happen that mistake of our
    generation leave a permanent scar on our lifes , that will require
    generations of pain and misery to fill in our lifes.

    Humanity is very very advanced now and very much mature too. We
    sincerely pray to god & believe that China – India can be good friends
    again and if tried with open mind , We can be brothers too soon as we
    used to be 60 years ago when there was abject poverty in both the

    Regards ,

    Er.Samir Agarwal.
    Mobile -0091-9811563958.

    • Chanakya says:


      The world of realists has to understand that both soft and hard power are yielded in the right measure in this complex domain of international interests. You want to be friends but not without adequate power, both economic and military, to support your friendship. In this game friendship without the right tools is considered weakness and is taken advantage of. Remember 1962 slogan of Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai and where it got us.

      You normally behave with a person yielding a stick and floundering a German Shephard – same applies here, at least in the sub continent.

  5. Seema Puri says:

    I agree with Ajay Das. It will remain China versus India in the near future.

  6. Chanakya says:

    I couldn’t resist posting this from Business Standard via sify


  7. Abhijit Bora says:

    Diplomacy to resolve tensions between the two countries with annual trade of over $ 60 Billion is the pragmatic approach. ut rel politic demands that we keep all options open.

    General Jacob and C Raja Mohan have articulated their views on the subject of China’s new Indian policy. Both want the nation to develop credible military capability to thwart any aggressive designs and make our deterrence credible. While India and China would neither remain friends nor enemies, this is no excuse to let our guard down militarily.



  8. Vikram Jog says:

    Indian media is obsessed with China but there is no news of the discord over Visa or the Gilgit build up in Chinese state owned media. The fact that China has long term strategic initiatives underway in the Himalayas and Indian Ocean is well taken…we are more concerned about India’s strategic security structure and its initiatives. Hope we are in safe hands, “and” or “Versus” notwithstanding


  9. Seema Guha says:

    China has settled most of its land disputes barring with India and Taiwan. Now it has the luxury of dominating the Indian Ocean through port access under the garb of managing its hydrocarbon trade with the middle East to overcome the Malacca dilemma.

    This facility can be quickly transformed for military use. The first ever visit of Chinese military ships to a Burmese port are indicative of inevitability of this possible transition with little effort. No wonder India is worried.

    These are times for tough diplomatic choices and initiatives to be initiated.

  10. jolly says:

    It is going to happen some day soon . With the emerging world order China will soon want to establish its ‘territory’ both vis a vis the US ( in the world order ) and India ( in the Asian region ) . And I hope the Indian political leadership is preparing the armed forces and the country it .


  11. Naresh Chand says:

    China has increased its defense budget in 2010 by 7.5 percent to US$78 billion, while most other countries were cutting military spending, according to the latest reports based on Taiwan media. Despite global recession there is no let up in Chinese modernisation plans. What do you think this means for India – less than 2 percent and hoping the threat will go away?

  12. John Extross says:

    Shashi Tharoor says in dealing with India in the current geopolitical environment, “pursue diplomacy but keep your powder dry”. At long last the political class has come to relise what the armed forces have been clamouring for years. However, this article does not apply to bulk of the decision makers who are still esconced in the Panipat syndrome. Against China Indian brief must be in the strategic systems and third dimension forces. Conventionally we can never match China. Hope someone listens. Here is the article


  13. admin says:

    Ever since this article was posted we have seen the strategic circles go in a tailspin to ask for a quid pro quo, more on the lines of “versus” rather than “and”. Apathy by successive governments in denying armed forces the teeth they deserved has left the elephant with only the ivory teeth. Then there is the “Chalta Hai” mindset of those in power which has weakened the elephant’s muscles. It is no gainsaying the fact that India needs to yield the requisite stick if it has to remain relevant in the future south asian or regional geopolitical environment.

    Some of the comments above such as keeping our powder dry by investing urgently in strategic assets which should augment the infrastructure and conventional forces are relevant – especially when Chinese are partying in Gilgit and flying Sukhois in Tibet. Add to this the third dimension ie the Sea and the picture is complete. C Uday Bhaskar, though,has this balanced approach and another similar piece in Himal.

    In the meanwhile the dragon is making great stride in cyber warfare and perception management – putting a country at odds with itself by denying visa to one general! Suntzu’s teachings.

    The message is clear ” the dragon is rising” and the elephant better get its act together along all possible diplomatic channels. Albeit with a good stick. Frienemies all??

  14. Anshu Diwan says:

    China wants too many things from India.

    It wants Arunachal to be handed over — at least Tawang and a few more areas; it wants the Dalai Lama to be sent back to Beijing; it wants to retain most of what it has forcibly occupied in Ladakh extending well beyond even its official claim line of 1956; it wants Nepal’s neutrality or more specifically aChinese leaning; it wants India not to have close ties with the United States; it wants to further open India’s market for its companies; and much more.

    To make India fall in line it thus keeps the pressure on. It opposes India’s entry into the Security Council , opposes World Bank and IMF project loans for development programmes in Arunachal and may soon do the same with J&K, it wants India out of the East Asia regional process, it dismisses India’s legal sovereignty in PoK, it steadily builds military pressure points in Tibet and PoK, refuses visas to generals and sustains strategic pressures through its alliance with Pakistan.

    Under such relationship paradigms, it will be India vs China for the time being. India has to think out of the box by aggresively pursuing the policy of managing it’s periphery led by socio economic and ideological initiatives. Countering China move by move may be counterproductive in the managing the fragile relationship. India and China for the time being is utopian.

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