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China-India Strategic Alliance Should Not Be Unthinkable, (Paper No.1375 Dated 13.05.2005) a Mid-2014 Review

Paper No. 5783                                      Dated 08-Sept-2014

By Dr Subhash Kapila

“China-India Strategic Alliance Should Not Be Unthinkable” was a SAAG Paper penned by me in May 2005 (Reproduced as Annexure) in which after detailed analysis of all facets of such a proposal, and while highlighting the significant strategic advantages to both China and India of such an alliance, came to the conclusion that such an alliance stood no chances of materialising with existing Chinese mind-sets. The more noteworthy salient conclusions were:

  • China-India relationships with any strategic connotations will never materialise as a marked “Strategic Distrust” hovered relentlessly on any moves in this direction.
  • China has to modulate and refashion its strategic and political formulations on India to regain India’s “Strategic Trust”
  • Adversarial postures were inflicted by China on India and not by India on China and hence China has to take a higher call in terms of eliminating Chinese adversarial postures against India directly and by proxies
  • China would have to recognise India’s strategic pre-eminence in the Indian Sub-Continent and desist from strategic encirclement of India and propping up politically unstable proxies like Pakistan to destabilise India.

Content of the above quoted SAAG Paper and the many conclusions that emanated in 2005 are not only valid today but hold out greater validity in 2014 when contemporaneously reviewed against China’s insensitive strategic postures and formulations against India in the follow-up period of 2005-2014. China-India trade relations which have risen exponentially during this period are off-set by China’s equally increased adversarial postures against India. India needs to remember that national security interests cannot be subsumed by an economic up-surge.

China has not taken any serious or meaningful initiatives to erase the persisting “Strategic Distrust” that it has generated in the Indian psyche which more than in the Indian Government stands deeply embedded in the Indian public’s psyche. This is likely to persist as China and India tussle for the Asian strategic space.

If the visiting Chinese President is sincerely and genuinely committed to forge a meaningful relationship with India, then China under his leadership must take steps to jettison its existing mind-sets on India and flawed strategic assessments on India. The first bench-mark for the Chinese President would be to initiate a Chinese “Hands Off” policy in the Pakistan-centric fixations that dominate Chinese strategy in this region.

India is not the India of 1962 and in 2014 stands tall as an emerging Asian power, recognised as such in the wider Indo Pacific Asia and the rest of the world. India is not strategically cornered in 2014; it is China that is strategically cornered today. China needs to recognise this strategic reality on the eve of the Chinese President’s visit to India in September 2014.

India today has to address the strategic predicament of how to balance the Japan-India Strategic and Global Partnership which promises great potential as opposed to the India-China Strategic and Composite Partnership for Peace and Prosperity signed in April 2005 which never took off due to China’s relentless intransigent aggressive actions on India’s borders with Tibet to date.

Significantly, China has not honoured in letter and spirit any of the Agreements signed on border peace and tranquillity. The year 2014 has not witnessed any cessation of border intrusions/ transgressions and border provocations against India.

Two notable points need to be made in relation to China –India relations in terms of China’s overtures to India, and these are:

  • It may be recalled that in 2005 China showed an extraordinary strategic interest in India as at that time India was engaged in giving reinforced substantial shape to the US-India Strategic Partnership, which China frowned on. China did not wish for a proximate Indian strategic relationship with the United States.
  • In Mid-2014 China is faced with two challenges in relation to India. The first is that it stands “Strategically Cornered” both regionally and globally, as analysed by me in an earlier Paper. Secondly, China is intent on driving a wedge in the upgrading of the Japan-India Strategic and Global Partnership to one of a “Special Japan-India Strategic and Global Partnership during PM Modi’s recent visit to Japan. China now wishes to drive a wedge in India’s proximate strategic relationships with Japan.

India’s policy establishment needs to note that India is in a position to apply strategic leverages, contextually, as it prepares to sit with the Chinese President in New Delhi a few days hence.

India would be well advised to stay away from any strategic or security agreements with China during the forthcoming visit. India’s strategy should be to fixate only on trade, commerce and Chinese FDI in sectors and areas not sensitive for Indian security. China is not an honest strategic partner of India nor likely to be.

Concluding, India must not concede or articulate any “One China” assertion without a corresponding Chinese President’s honouring of “One India” policy.




(Reproduce the Paper)

Paper no. 1375                                                  12. 05. 2005

CHINA-INDIA STRATEGIC ALLIANCE- Should not be Unthinkable: An Analysis

by Dr. Subhash Kapila 

If the role of a think tank is to think the unthinkable, here is one piece which needs careful thought. The views expressed are author's own.- I would invite the views of readers on this subject. Director 

Introductory Observations:

China and India are rising powers in the global strategic firmament. China and India are also civilisational powers with a glowing heritage and history of civilised institutions dating back to centuries. Before the advent of Muslim rule in India, both countries had a record of friendly exchanges and interaction with no adversarial past. 

China and India’s adversarial postures emerged after the Communist take-over of China after a long civil war and India’s independence from British rule. Analytically, it can be asserted that China and India may not have entered into an adversarial mode had Tibet remained an independent buffer state. China’s assertion of its historical control of Tibet by military occupation in 1950 and Indian Prime Minister Nehru’s acquiescence to it changed the strategic situation. China’s borders now rested on the old India-Tibet border. This paved the way for the 1962 Sino-Indian War, and all that followed is now recorded in contemporary history. 

The contemporary scene in China-India relations today is that both nations are engaged in attempting to put the past behind and forge new relationships based on the emerging global strategic realities. Trade and economic ties have grown exponentially in the last five years and China’s new leaders have expressed determination to find solutions to the China-India boundary dispute which be-devilled relations in the past. 

If in the 1970’s, the United States could put aside a quarter century of bitterness of war and hostile postures with China and fashion China into a quasi-strategic ally for the ensuing decade and a half, the proposition of a China-India strategic alliance should not be dismissed out-rightly as unthinkable. 

China-India Strategic Alliance-The Geo-political and Geo-strategic Advantages:

A China-India strategic alliance is a workable proposition and not unthinkable, with the caveat that as a prelude both China and India would require sustained and sincere efforts to overcome the issues that presently divide them. More on this later- but first an examination of the strategic advantages that could accrue if China and India succeed in forging a strategic alliance. 

The geo-political and geo-strategic advantages that could accrue from a China-India strategic alliance could be summarised as under:

  • Geo-strategically, a China-India strategic alliance would encompass the major portion of the heartland of Asia besides resting on the waters of the Pacific Ocean and Indian Ocean.
  • Geo-politically, a China-India strategic alliance could alter the global balance of power from a unilateral one to a multi-lateral one.
  • Geo-strategically such an alliance would be a formidable one in military terms.
  • A China-India strategic alliance could make a Russia-India-China strategic triangle a viable proposition. Presently, this triangle is unworkable because of  differences in the China-India relations.
  • Geo-economically it would integrate the world's two fastest growing economies.

Needless to say, that a China-India strategic alliance facilitating a viable Russia-India-China strategic triangle could emerge as an unbeatable geo-political and geo-strategic combination. No countervailing force of any permutation or combination could match a Russia-India-China triangle. 

However, for the above to emerge, both China and India have to seriously overcome the impediments that stand in the way. 

The Impediments Thwarting a China-India Strategic Alliance:

Purely, in the bi-lateral context, the impediments thwarting a China-India strategic alliance can said to be:

  • The Deficit of Trust Between China and India.
  • China’s Insensitivities to India’s National Security Interests and Vice-Versa.
  • China’s Perceptions of India.
  • India’s Perceptions of China.

To these would have to be added the inter-play of external influence and pressures of the United States and other major powers which could perceive this emergence as disturbing. 

This author would like to dwell entirely in this paper on the bi-lateral impediments only; and these are examined in a little more detail below. 

The Deficit of Trust Between China and India:

 This is the most fundamental impediment obstructing China- India relations to move to a more substantial relationship and further towards a China-India strategic alliance. Let it be noted that this deficit of trust is a product of contemporary China-India history post-1950. 

Factors contributing to this deficit of trust, both past and current can be summed-up as under:

  • China’s policy of asserting “strategic frontiers” as opposed to national boundaries.
  • China’s propensity to use military force in boundary disputes.
  • China’s aggressive foreign policies in the formative stages of the communist nation-state.
  • China’s “swing strategy” in its foreign policies.
  • China’s snails-peace in solving the China-India boundary dispute.
  • China’s excessive use of rhetoric to camouflage  real intentions.
  • China’s strident opposition to India’s nuclear weapons tests.
  • India’s lack of declaratory policies in terms of its long-term strategic foreign policy objectives.
  • India’s trajectory towards a major-power status, its military, modernisation and its impact on China’s standing, comparatively.
  • China-India clash of interests in South Asia.
  • Growing USA-India military-to-military contacts and expressions for greater strategic relationship.

More importantly now, China-India holding back its unqualified support for India’s candidature as a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council with full veto power.

On balance, it would be seen that in terms of removal of deficit of trust between China and India, greater initiatives are called for from China. The deficit of trust is largely China-induced. 

China’s Insensitivities to India’s National Security Interests and Vice Versa:

Lest this paper is accused of being one-sided, this part would dwell on auditing the record of both China and India in terms of respecting each other’s strategic sensitivities in terms of respective  national security interests. 

China’s demonstrated record in this respect appears to be focused on endangering or impinging on India’s national security interests in South Asia by the following actions:

  • Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and missile arsenal was built up by direct Chinese assistance.
  • China’s “Defence Cooperation Agreements” with Pakistan and Bangladesh, solely aimed at India. As a result both the countries get encouraged to have inimical attitudes towards India.
  • China’s “strategic encirclement"  of India by creation of military client states on all peripheries.
  • China’s support of Pakistan’s stand on Kashmir, till recently.

India’s record on the other hand in terms of respecting China’s strategic sensitivities is glaringly more positive as the following would indicate:

  • India has supported the Chinese policy of “One China” principle.
  • India has respected China’s stand on the Tibet issue.
  • India has never supported “anti-China” activities by Tibetan exiles.
  • India has not, unlike China, supported any insurgent activities against China.
  • India has not made any efforts towards strategic encirclement of China.
  • India has asserted that its growing relationship with USA, precludes being part of any China containment policies of USA.

Once again, on balance, China has to modulate and refashion its policies to regain India’s trust and  support and also to correct the imbalance. 

China’s Perceptions of India-Impressions:

In terms of national perceptions of any country, one has to view it at two levels. The first level is that of the Governmental level and the second level is that of the peoples level. 

The Chinese Government levels do seem to recognise today that India is a rising power whose ascendancy cannot be arrested by its erstwhile strategies of building up of “spoiler state”  like Pakistan or Bangladesh; or of strategic encirclement of India or by any other politically coercive measures. The Chinese Government has therefore commenced its policies of sustainable engagement with India. 

The Chinese government’s perceptions of India in terms of India’s long term strategic objectives, however seem to need some re-assurance from India that it is not part of any “China containment” policies. 

At the peoples' level, talks with Chinese journalists and intellectuals suggest that the Chinese people are woefully ignorant about India’s advancements. One Chinese survey to asserting which are the leading countries in the world elicited answers terming USA, Russia, China, Japan and Europe. India did not figure in Chinese peoples perceptions at all. India’s foreign policy establishment has to focus its external publicity mechanisms on the Chinese people. It is not for China to do so. Presently, China’s public opinion may not count for much, but the effort to make it India-conscious has to begin now. 

In terms of approaches of the Chinese Government to a China-India strategic alliance , it can be summarised that while no direct suggestions have surfaced, the Chinese Government's support for a Russia-India-China triangle, implicitly, points towards China  not being averse to the proposition. 

India’s Perceptions of China-Prevalent Perceptions:

India, both at the Governmental level and at the people’s level stands out uniquely in contrast to China. 

At the Governmental level, the impression is that increased trade and economic ties and joint collaboration in energy projects, worldwide, could pave the way for more strategic cooperation between the two countries. 

India’s trade and industrial circles are active proponents of enlarging China-India ties in this field, spurred as they are, by the buoyancy in economic relations between the two countries. 

At the people’s level, the 1962 Sino-Indian conflict rankles in the psyche. The Indian people are aware of China’s intrusive policies in South Asia, especially with Pakistan. 

The Indian strategic analysis community is divided into three different strands which this author labels as (1) “ The China types” i.e. those from institutes closely allied with China; also included would be the Leftist parties (2) “The JNU Types” i.e. idealistic academics and researchers with Leftist leanings and (3) “The USA Types” i.e. those whose perceptions on China are solely influenced by the writings of American think-tanks on China. 

There is yet to emerge a purely “Indian Types” strand, predominantly influenced by India’s national security considerations. 

India’s approaches to a China-India strategic alliance would appear to be a conflicting one in terms of the product of all the three types described above. 

The “realist” political theory analyst, on analysis of the contemporary global strategic scene would conclude that a China-India strategic alliance is not unthinkable. As a prelude both China and India, and more so China, would have to re-orient its policies to win over Indian “hearts and minds”. 

Concluding Observations:

In the sphere of international relations and politics, no proposition or development should be deemed as unthinkable. The pathways to power, historically, are lined with examples, where nations have broken out from existing “strategic strait-jackets”, as one would like to term such mindsets, and explored the “unthinkable”. 

China and India today are in that position, where it may be more in China’s interests to woo and win over India as a “strategic partner” as opposed to a “strategic ally” like Pakistan. China needs to recognise the strategic reality that if India is forced into an all-embracing strategic relationship with the United States, it would be due to China’s policies and actions or even the lack of appropriate policies and actions towards India. 

A China-India strategic alliance based on “equitable strategic equations” would greatly contribute to Asian security and global strategic balance.

(The author is an International Relations and Strategic Affairs analyst. He is the Consultant, Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group. Email