بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم الحمدلله والصلاة والسلام على رسول الله وعلى آله وصحبه أجمعين
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Document created: 4 September 03
Air & Space Power Journal - Fall 2003
Editorial Abstract: Even though China and India have a 20-year track record of cooperation, both countries have ample justification for proceeding with caution. On the one hand, US hegemony and greater US involvement in Asia may push the two neighbors toward even more cooperation. On the other hand, the degree to which one nation perceives the other as a threat could encourage closer ties with the United States.
Friends or Foes?
Lt Col Mona Lisa D. Tucker, USAF
Since its inception as an independent nation in 1947, India has followed its own drumbeat in developing foreign policy. Such an independent worldview and the desire to become a regional hegemon in South Asia has often put India at odds with the United States. Even though the two nations share democratic values, their values and interests have rarely converged in the world of international politics. India and China, who claim to be the world’s two oldest and largest civilizations, also have had a seesaw-like relationship.1 This article examines India’s and China’s history of foreign policy and discusses their current relationship as well as possibilities for the future, both through the prism of US interests. Although both countries have developed a more cooperative relationship in the last 20 years, because India still sees China as a threat, it continues to pursue both additional nuclear capability and a stronger relationship with the United States. Some observers might argue that India and China are on a path of cooperation so as to effectively counterbalance US hegemony in Asia. This article, however, argues that, although India is cautiously proceeding with cooperative efforts with the Chinese, it sees China as a major threat, and that the United States welcomes this view as a means of counterbalancing China as its only near-term strategic competitor.
India’s Major Foreign-Policy Themes
Upon achieving its independence, India set about becoming a world power with global influence, even though it fixed most of its attention on Pakistan. India also extended its hand to the African National Congress of South Africa- which had adopted the passive resistance advocated by Mohandas Gandhi- by providing training and assistance as Africans struggled to rid themselves of colonial oppressors. Unwilling to become a pawn of the United States and USSR, the world’s two superpowers, during the Cold War, India cofounded the Non-Aligned Movement, remaining neutral until it became more expedient to side with the USSR.2 Additionally, India promoted total nuclear disarmament of all nuclear powers, all the while seeking nuclear-power status itself. It continued to condemn nuclear powers but saw nuclear weapons as its ticket to becoming a global force.3
Cold War and Post–Cold War
India and Pakistan have been fixated on each other’s demise since the partition of India by the British. The legitimacy of each government seems to hinge on the illegitimacy of the other. On the one hand, the very existence of the Muslim state of Pakistan threatens India’s idea of itself as a pluralistic society with a secular government that also represents the world’s second-largest Muslim population. On the other hand, Pakistan was founded on the belief that the world needed a Muslim state that would provide Muslims equal status and rule them under Muslim law. Consequently, India’s foreign policy remains focused on the Pakistani threat- seemingly, everything else is secondary even though India developed a two-front scenario in its national-security strategy after China’s successful military action against it in 1962.4 India has always felt itself superior to Pakistan, an attitude reinforced by its sound defeat of that country in 1971. But following India’s testing of a nuclear weapon in 1974, Pakistan began its own covert journey to achieve nuclear-power status. Indeed, when India conducted its next nuclear demonstration in 1998, Pakistan responded in kind with its own test. It was now apparent to the world that both India and Pakistan intended to direct their nuclear capabilities at each other. Other disputes between Pakistan and India stem from the seemingly irresolvable dispute over Kashmir. Further, degradation in their relationship occurred with the so-called state-sponsored terrorist tactics used by the Pakistanis, especially in the Kashmir region. Despite the US reliance on Pakistan as an ally in the global war on terrorism, India continues to insist that its neighbor is an enemy and a source of much of the world’s terrorism.5
India’s position of nonalignment put it at odds with the United States. The United States initially saw India, the world’s largest democracy, as a prize to be kept away from the Communists. When India failed to side with the United States during the Korean War, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles called the Indians "immoral." Over time, the United States came to accept India’s nonalignment policy as a nuisance but not a threat. As a result, India enjoyed handouts from both the United States and USSR, thus benefiting from the Cold War for a while. However, as the United States tired of the zero-sum relationship between India and Pakistan, as well as their inability to resolve their differences, it sought to extricate itself from the countries’ ongoing battles. When the India-Pakistan war of 1971 resulted in Pakistan’s sound defeat, India emerged as the regional power of South Asia,6 but the United States lost patience with both countries because of their practice of using US weapons and aid to fight each other. With the detonation of India’s nuclear warhead in 1974, the United States again opposed India on the grounds of nonproliferation, seeking an end to that country’s nuclear testing and arming.7 Meanwhile, Pakistan also gained nuclear capability, presumably with China’s help, and conducted a nuclear test of its own. Once again, India believed that the United States was trying to thwart its regional hegemonic status by levying more sanctions and beating the nonproliferation drum in the international arena. Becoming more embroiled in Vietnam, the United States pulled its aid from both India and Pakistan. India began to see a pattern of US support followed by sanctions when India displeased America. Or the United States totally ignored India, opting to court Pakistan, China, and- later- even the USSR. Unsurprisingly, India became increasingly distrustful of the United States and, though initially bent on nonalignment, grew closer to the USSR.8
India didn’t see the Soviet Union as a threat at all. Although the two countries were ideologically far apart, India’s Jawaharlal Nehru, its first prime minister, admired the Soviets’ ability to become a world power by building their economy, military, and political might on their own terms. In fact, the Soviet Union became India’s economic model for building an infrastructure of roads, dams, and power plants and its main benefactor in terms of arms sales.9 Obviously, this relationship with Russia further strained the one with the United States.10 But the USSR did not help India with nuclear issues, and its invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979 caught India off guard, putting their relationship to the test. Further, the collapse of the USSR severely degraded India’s military readiness because, without Soviet help, it could no longer logistically support its equipment.11 Dismayed at how the Israelis had used US and Western technology to easily defeat the Arabs and their Soviet-supplied weapons, India once again sought out the West.12
Sino-Indian relationships also experienced many ups and downs during and after the Cold War. Nehru envisioned a close relationship between his country and China, seeing them both becoming strong regional allies with important seats at the world table. But this was not to be. Since the two countries had great potential and no additional territorial ambitions, Nehru believed that they shared a common path. Both were on the sidelines, watching the Cold War between the United States and USSR. Both had large populations and needed to build their respective economies. Both aspired to become great powers and had the requisite potential to do so.13 Therefore, India- the second country formally to recognize the People’s Republic of China as the single voice of China- was understandably surprised in 1962, when the border disputes between the two countries escalated and China invaded parts of India, taking some of its territory. As a result of China’s aggression, India continues to dispute the border between the two countries to this day.
Furthering the ill will between China and India, Pakistan ceded about 5,800 square kilometers of Indian Kashmir to China in 1963. Additionally, in 1965 during the India-Pakistan conflict, China provided Pakistan with military weaponry and accused India of "criminal aggression."14 Because India was adamant about remaining militarily superior to Pakistan, however, it adopted a policy of accommodation with China- a move undoubtedly motivated by India’s realization that it could never win any further conflict with China. But as China became more of a benefactor of Pakistan, India strengthened its ties with the USSR. The Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 caused the United States and China to become more active in the region, both of them once again providing aid and military hardware to Pakistan.15
Current and Future China-India Relations
Still concerned about the above-mentioned border dispute, India remains cautious in its dealings with China, which is in no hurry to resolve the problem even though India continues to press the issue during each exchange visit.16 India also views China warily because of the latter’s history with Pakistan. Specifically, China provided Pakistan with much of its weaponry and technology, most likely including its nuclear capability. China still refuses to recognize Sikkim as a legitimate part of India, having called it an "illegal annexation" in 1975, and persists in thwarting India’s quest for a permanent seat on the United Nations (UN) Security Council.17
Another roadblock in China-India relations is India’s position on Tibetan autonomy and human rights. India provided refuge for several exiled Tibetan spiritual leaders, and China scathingly referred to the meeting between Indian prime minister Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the Dalai Lama in 1998 as an interference in its internal affairs. India further irritates China by allowing these and other exiled Tibetans to express their views and influence world opinion concerning the treatment of their people.18 In spite of these hindrances, Indian political leaders claim to want good relations with China. They deny seeing China as a threat, yet the Indian military clearly seems to think otherwise. Moreover, the Ministry of External Affairs talks about cooperation with China and opportunities for trade, yet high-ranking officials have verbally identified China and Pakistan as India’s two principal threats. Further corroboration occurred in early March 2003, when Indian newspapers described newly purchased Su-30 MKI aircraft as the means of delivering nuclear weapons to any part of China. These overt references to China as a threat seem to fly in the face of the rhetoric of cooperation heard in some circles.19
Cooperative Efforts between
China and India
The annual report for 2001–2 published by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs states that India "seeks friendly, cooperative, good neighbourly and mutually beneficial relations with China on the basis of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, jointly enunciated by India and China. India seeks a long term, stable relationship based on equality in which both sides are responsive to each other’s concerns."20 It appears to India, however, that China hasn’t been responsive enough in solving long-time border disputes and that it doesn’t consider India an equal.
In the last few decades, India has pursued resolution of the border issue. Since resuming ambassadorial relations in 1976 after a 25-year hiatus, India and China have taken steps to strengthen cooperative measures. In 1988 Rajiv Gandhi, the Indian prime minister, visited China, and as the two countries resumed high-level diplomatic dialogue, they decided to set up a joint working group to discuss their borders. As a result of Prime Minister Narasimha Rao’s visit in 1993, China and India signed an agreement on Border Peace and Tranquility and set up the India-China Expert Group of Diplomatic and Military Officers to assist the work of the joint working group. On the Chinese side, Premier Li Peng visited India in 1991, and President Jiang Zemin did so in 1996. During the latter’s visit, the two sides established the Agreement on Confidence Building Measures in the Military Field along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas. Both countries agreed to work towards a constructive and cooperative relationship for the twenty-first century. Nevertheless, even though the joint working group has met 13 times since its inception, the border problem remains unresolved.21 Other cooperative efforts include six memorandums of understanding and agreements signed in New Delhi on 14 January 2002 that address cooperation in the areas of science and technology, outer space, tourism, phytosanitary measures, and China’s providing India with hydrological data regarding the Brahmaputra River during flood season.22
After India’s nuclear test in 1998 and its disclosure that the threat of China made the test necessary, both countries agreed on the need for bilateral security dialogue. After resuming relations about a year later, India and China stated that they did not consider the other a threat. The first meeting of the security dialogue occurred in Beijing in March 2000 and the second in New Delhi in February 2001. After the terrorist strikes of 11 September 2001, India and China agreed that they should maintain close cooperation and establish a bilateral dialogue against terrorism. Chinese leaders have also remarked that, since both countries feel threatened by the United States, they should cooperate to counterbalance America.23 According to Zhou Gang, China’s ambassador to New Delhi, "the threat is not from China to India and not from India to China. It comes from other places. . . . There is only one force dominating the world and asserting its domination to create a unipolar world. It is quite realistic for [India and China] to improve [their] relations to a cooperative partnership."24
When Li Changchun, member of the politburo of the Chinese Communist party and party secretary of Guangdong Province, visited India in May 2001, he stated that India and China were the world’s largest developing countries and that they had a responsibility to promote economic development, the well being of the two peoples, and the strengthening of bilateral ties. He also noted that the two countries shared more commonalities than differences and that both sides agreed on the existence of concrete opportunities for the development of bilateral trade.25
Such trade has grown rapidly over the last decade. In 1991 the trade volume between the two countries was $265 million (US dollars), and in 2001 it reached $3.6 billion. The increase from the year 2000 to 2001 was about 23.4 percent. India imports more than it exports to China, imports having increased by 21.5 percent from 2000 to 2001. Its main exports include ore, slag, ash, cotton yarn/fabric, plastics, organic chemicals, mineral fuel, oil, silk yarn/fabric, and machinery. For both countries, however, their bilateral trade is significantly smaller than the rest of their foreign trade. India and China continue to exchange trade delegations and product exhibitions; additionally, each has established joint-venture and wholly owned companies in the other’s country. Indian companies in China include Cadilla and Wockhardt pharmaceutical companies, Orissa Industries Ltd., Infosys, Tata Exports, Torrent Group, Lupin Laboratories, and Kanoria Chemicals and Industries.26
Despite these moves, much remains to be done. Significant bilateral cooperation will require changes in both China’s and India’s threat perceptions, avoidance of open rivalry over regional issues, better management of each country’s relationship with Pakistan, and eventual resolution of their border dispute.27
The Future of Relations between
China and India
The rhetoric of government officials from either India or China suggests that the two consider each other friends and seek cooperation and harmony. Although India and China have agreed to better and more cooperation on border resolution, security, the fight against terrorism, and trade, India still seems suspicious of China. As recently as March 2003, discussions and briefings by senior military and government officials demonstrated that India sees China as one of its two main threats.28 India now bases its security strategy on a two-front scenario, using the China threat as a rationale for procuring new weapons systems. Indeed, China can reach all parts of India with its nuclear arsenal, and India’s recent purchase of the Russian-made Su-30 MKI aircraft, mentioned above, is a response to that threat and part of its effort to close the military gap between the two. It seems India believes that China will deal with it as an equal only if it can reciprocate China’s nuclear threat. Additionally, Indians are frustrated with the "glacial" pace of the border-resolution efforts. China has been slow to move on the issue since the two countries began their dialogue in 1988. In short, India thinks that China does not consider it a legitimate Asian or regional power. To overcome this perception, many Indians feel a need to build a stronger, better military arsenal; others argue that India can never win an arms race with China.29
Additionally, China and India are rivals in the marketplace, competing for business in Asia, Europe, and the United States. Although they seek cooperation on some level and have certainly improved bilateral trade, the two produce many of the same goods, both have billion-person populations to employ, and their large populations’ impoverishment gives them little buying power. Once again, China has an edge on India in terms of goods, services, and access to other markets. For instance, the United States has shown much more interest in trade with China than with India.30
Other stumbling blocks to closer bilateral cooperation include China’s stance on Sikkim and India’s stance on Tibet. Also, China’s refusal to back India’s efforts to gain a permanent seat on the UN Security Council inhibits full-scale cooperation between the two.31
Even though India and China have agreed to cooperate on the war against terrorism, India remains wary of China’s relationship with Pakistan. In the past, China has provided Pakistan with many of its weapons and, historically, their relationship has sought to counterbalance India-Soviet power. With the disintegration of the Soviet Union, it will be interesting to see how these relationships evolve. Today Pakistan is an active partner with the United States and the West in the global war on terrorism, but India has always contended that Pakistan is the main perpetrator of much terrorist activity, as mentioned earlier.32 This issue must be addressed if further cooperation is to occur.
Sino-Indian Cooperation or
Competition: What Is Best
for US Interests?
If India and China were to cooperate on security and economics, what would that mean for the United States? Could they effectively push the United States out of regional issues and counterbalance US power both regionally and globally? The United States sees China as its only potential near-peer in the next couple of decades. On the other hand, although the United States and India have been at odds for most of their history, the current administration seeks to solidify a cooperative relationship. Regardless of whether one is an idealist looking at the great potential for shared values and market globalization or a realist seeing an opportunity to counterbalance China with a billion-person weight, the United States would benefit if the level of cooperation between India and China remained low. Both countries provide huge markets for US commerce although each needs a larger middle class if the United States is to benefit substantially. Militarily, the United States remains wary of China and could use Indian military power and intelligence to help keep China in check. Clearly, China’s military outclasses India’s at this time, but a more robust India with nuclear capability can at least provide another concern for Chinese security. As Secretary of State Colin Powell observed in his confirmation hearing, "We must deal more wisely with the world’s largest democracy. . . . India has the potential to keep the peace in the vast Indian Ocean area and its periphery." This statement may well indicate that the United States no longer perceives China as just a major market but a strategic competitor that needs to be contained in Asia.33
Many ups and downs have marked the history of Sino-Indian relations. Today a number of observers believe that China and India can become cooperative partners to counterbalance US hegemony, but in reality India still sees China as one of its two principal threats. Thus, the United States would do well to strengthen its ties with a more robust and nuclear-capable India so as to offset China’s growing strategic importance and influence.
India continues to pursue regional hegemony and global influence, so stronger ties with the United States would contribute to its stature as a world player. On the other hand, India deals cautiously with China and will deal similarly with the United States because of the latter’s history of imposing sanctions on India and isolating it. The United States may yet develop a partnership with the world’s largest democracy that will benefit both parties- a goal implicit in the previous and current US administrations’ reaching out to India in an effort to make amends. As outlined in current US national security strategy, "the United States has undertaken a transformation in its bilateral relationship with India based on a conviction that U.S. interests require a strong relationship with India."34 If our country remains true to course, India and the United States can take advantage of greater trade opportunities as well as strategic security against China.
1. Shri George Fernandes, "Concluding Address at the Fifth Asian Security Conference Organised by the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses," Strategic Digest, February 2003, 95.
2. Stephen P. Cohen, India: Emerging Power (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 2001), 72.
3. Ibid., 168.
4. Ibid., 203.
5. Briefing, Indian Integrated Defense Staff (IDS) to US Air War College students and faculty, subject: Organizational Overview and Security Issues, March 2003.
6. Cohen, 137.
7. Amit Gupta, CRS Report to Congress: US-India Security Relations (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, November 2002), CRS-3.
8. Cohen, 270–71.
9. Ibid., 38.
10. Ibid., 142.
11. Ibid., 249–50.
12. Ibid., 139.
13. Ibid., 25.
14. "India’s Foreign Relations: China," Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, March 2003, on-line, Internet, 16 June 2003, available from http://www.meadev.nic.in/foreign/china.htm
15. Gupta, CRS-3.
16. Mark W. Frazier, "China-India Relations since Pokhran II: Assessing Sources of Conflict and Cooperation," Access Asia Review 3, no. 2 (2000): n.p., on-line, Internet, 16 June 2003, available from http://www.nbr.org/publications/revi...no2/essay.html
17. "India’s Foreign Relations: China."
19. IDS briefing.
20. Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, Annual Report, 2001–2002, 25, on-line, Internet, 15 July 2003, available from http://meadev.nic.in/AReport2002.pdf
21. "India’s Foreign Relations: China."
25. "India’s Foreign Relations: China."
27. Waheguru Pal Singh Sidhu and Jing-Dong Yuan, "Resolving the Sino-Indian Border Dispute: Building Confidence through Cooperative Monitoring," Asian Survey 41, no. 2 (March–April 2001): 351–76, reprinted in South Asia Regional Studies Reader (Maxwell AFB, Ala.: USAF Air War College, 2003), 156.
28. IDS briefing.
29. Cohen, 163–64.
30. Gupta, CRS-21.
31. "India’s Foreign Relations: China."
32. Briefings, Indian Ministry of External Affairs and the Integrated Defense Staff to US Air War College students and faculty, subject: India’s Strategic Outlook- Pakistan, China, Threats, and Cooperative Efforts, March 2003.
33. Gupta, CRS-4; and "Prepared Statement of Colin L. Powell, Confirmation Hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, January 17, 2001," Bush Team Confirmation Hearings, on-line, Internet, 16 June 2003, available from http://www.acronym.org
34. George W. Bush, The National Security Strategy of the United States of America (Washington, D.C.: The White House, September 2002), 27, on-line, Internet, 16 June 2003, available from http:// National Security Council | The White House
Lt Col Mona Lisa D. Tucker (BS, Georgia Institute of Technology; MS, Saint Mary’s University; MSS, USAF Air War College) is deputy commander of the 89th Communications Group, Andrews AFB, Maryland. She has served as commander of the 50th Communications Squadron, Schriever AFB, Colorado; staff officer at United States Space Command, Peterson AFB, Colorado; and commander of the 71st Communications Squadron, Vance AFB, Oklahoma. Colonel Tucker is a graduate of Squadron Officer School, Air Command and Staff College, and Air War College.
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.
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China and India Friends or Foes?