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China-India Strategic Partnership in 2015 neither Strategic nor a Partnership

Paper No. 5908                                Dated 06-Apr-2015

By Dr Subhash Kapila

 On the eve of PM Modi’s visit to China it needs to be highlighted that the so-called China-India Strategic Partnership is neither ‘Strategic’ nor a ‘Partnership’.

“Strategic” implies existence of wide-ranging strategic convergences on overall security and stability and “Partnership” implies that both China and India by joint and shared endeavours would work effectively towards the foregoing objective. Sadly and regrettably that does not exist currently in China- India relations, leave aside what to say about the so-called China-India Strategic Partnership.

What hovers ominously as an overhang over China-India relations is whatever you want to call it: “Cold Peace” or “Cold War”

If layers of flowery rhetoric by Chinese and Indian leaders and a slew of Boundary Agreements espousing tranquillity on the borders and conflict control mechanisms are peeled off like onion peels what stares China and India starkly in their faces is that “intense strategic distrust”  is the defining characteristic of the so-called and meaningless China-India Strategic Partnership.

This strategic reality must not be lost sight of and factored-in when PM Narendra Modi and his advisers sit down in the Great Hall in Beijing for confabulations with the Chinese leaders and groping to find “out of the box” solutions to break the impasse in the normalisation of uneasy China-India relations of the last six decades.

The strategic reality is that no ‘orbital leap” nor “out of the box” solutions are possible due to China’s continued rigidity and mind-set that perceive India as not a ‘strategic co-equal’ of China and therefore adoption of Chinese postures signifying that India has no option but to acquiesce to China’s dictates camouflaged as normalisation proposals.

The strategic reality however is otherwise. Pointed in one of my SAAG Papers last year was that currently “China is Strategically Cornered” and therefore a “Window of Opportunity” exists for India to drive home to China’s leaders that India is not without strategic options.

China if it really wants to invest in a meaningful and long-range Strategic Partnership with India in the true sense has then to embark on the path of seeking “strategic convergences” with India and dilute the “strategic divergences” that mark China’s postures and formulations in South Asia and Indo Pacific.

China needs to realise that China’s policy of containment of India and restrict it to South Asian confines has failed. China must also remember that India has not indulged in any containment policies against China. What India has done in a political and strategic reach-out to the United States was at best an effort to enlist a countervailing power against the China Threat.

Indian political leaders may keep repeating that there is no China Threat or underplaying the China Threat. The reality is however different.

 In Indian public opinion what stands etched sharply in the Indian psyche is that China with its perfidious attack in 1962 “Stabbed India in the Back” and that “China Victimised India” just to “Teach India a Lesson” and to project in Asian capitals that “China is the Sole Dominant Power in Asia.”

China has a hard and difficult task to disabuse the Indian psyche of this mind-set and until China comes out with some strategically magnanimous initiatives, China-India relations are foredoomed to existing stalemate.

(Dr Subhash Kapila is a graduate of the Royal British Army Staff College, Camberley and combines a rich experience of Indian Army, Cabinet Secretariat, and diplomatic assignments in Bhutan, Japan, South Korea and USA. Currently, Consultant International Relations & Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group. He can be reached at