China's strategic evaluation of India

This year is the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and India. Relations between Beijing and New Delhi have been tense over the past few decades, including the 1962 border war, the Sikkim small-scale conflict in 1967, the Sumdorong Chu valley small-scale conflict in 1987, and the Doklam standoff in 2017. The two countries continue to have divergent borders on their respective issues, the Dalai Lama issue, China's security cooperation with Pakistan, trade, and geopolitical issues in South Asia and throughout Asia.

China's policy on India has changed in the past two to three years. Now it actively promotes close ties. The move was taken because the Dokram standoff between China and India broke out sharply in 2017, with Chinese and Indian forces facing off on part of their disputed border. In addition, Beijing is concerned about the rising India and the United States. Alliance, which is part of Washington's Indo-Pacific strategy. In fact, China and India announced 70 events throughout the year to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. The formal settlement between the two global giants represents a case of major restructuring, a rare case for a Chinese script.

Despite high-level visits by senior leaders, China remains deeply skeptical of India's strategic ambitions and intentions. This duality-apparently formal reconciliation and mistrust and private hedging-will continue into the foreseeable future, which will have a significant impact on peace and stability in the region.

The trajectory of bilateral relations

China considers power politics and its own natural advantages. Beijing's vision of Asia is strictly hierarchical, while China is the highest, and India is not considered equal. Recognizing India's historical influence in South Asia, its capabilities as a regional power, and its global potential, China's policy on India has largely followed the pattern of balancing South India with India by supporting Pakistan and developing relations with small countries in the region. In addition, China is trying to stop India and the United States. Alliance in Asia. Where possible, Beijing attempts to form a "alliance" with India on a global scale as a member of the "Global South." There are disputes and differences, but they were resolved because both parties were reluctant to fundamentally change the status quo.

Xi Jinping and Modi became the leaders of China and India respectively, which greatly increased the pressure on the relations between the two countries. Both leaders are ambitious and keen to expand their country's influence while at the same time enhancing its vitality: Xi Jinping through the Belt and Road Initiative and Modi through Modi Doctrine. At the bilateral level, China believes that Modi is trying to force China to handle border disputes, membership of the Indian nuclear supplier group, terrorist appointments by Masood Azhar, and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project in Kashmir. Beijing firmly believes in its superiority and, despite doing so now, still believes that it does not need to cater to India, despite rejecting India's demands.

China's condescension and India's frustration eventually led to Doklam confrontation in the summer of 2017, in which the Chinese and Indian troops conducted road construction in China for more than two months in the three-point area between China, India and Bhutan confrontation. This impasse is a watershed moment in China's India policy in recent decades. Although both countries avoided the use of force, India's confidence forced China to re-evaluate India's strategic capabilities and determination. This re-evaluation challenges many of the long-standing prejudices that have clouded China's judgments, including simplistic and static views of India's disadvantaged position in the regional power hierarchy.

Asymmetry of Threat Perception

For China, the Doklam deadlock raises fundamental questions about the nature of India's threat. Despite India's asymmetric national strength-India's GDP is only 20% of China's-China is still adversely affected by asymmetry in threat perception. In short, India sees China as a major threat and China sees India as a secondary challenge. Beijing's national security focus is undoubtedly in the Western Pacific. This asymmetry in security priorities means that India may still not be able to compete with China in its national strength, conventional arms race or nuclear arms race, but its determination and attention to China are significantly stronger than China.

Because India is not China ’s main threat and South Asia is not China ’s main battlefield, China hopes to save costs and minimize its military and strategic resources to India. In the event of a conflict that is inevitable, China can mobilize to achieve a decisive victory on the battlefield with overwhelming capabilities, which is why the 1962 Sino-Indian border war is often mentioned in Dokram confrontations.

However, China does not want to conflict with India. Cross the border or the status of Kashmir. Even if China can defeat India and control India through war, the return to China will be kept to a minimum because it cannot solve the key external security challenges China faces in the Pacific. On the contrary, the breakdown of relations with New Delhi will only expose Beijing further in its main battlefield against the United States.

China's strategic goal is to stabilize relations with India to avoid a two-tier war with India. US and India-Minimize interference at the same time. But the challenge with this goal is how to achieve it. For China, the requirements of China and India are different and asymmetric in nature. The main concessions India has demanded from China, such as border settlements and the United Nations allegations of terrorists based in Pakistan against anti-Indian militants, are irreversible and arduous commitments. China's demand for India (such as neutrality and political unification) is short-lived and easily adjusted. Although New Delhi considers resolving these issues a prerequisite for India's trust in China, Beijing does not believe that giving up its influence will in any way prevent India from taking hostile action, especially given their conflicting vision of the region.

In this way, China ’s policy toward India is pulling in two opposite directions: where it may really want to establish friendly relations with India so that it can focus on the United States and the Pacific, and the same as a result of the conflict in the Asian agenda Between real hostility. The former points to a positive trajectory of reducing mistrust and increasing contact. The latter explained the lack of substantial progress in achieving this result.

China's debate on India and the United States. Tie

Due to the rapid rise of India and the United States, China's distrust of New Delhi has increased. contact. Three months after Doklam's standoff, Washington released the "India-Pacific Strategy", which aims to position India in a larger Asian position. The role, assistance, unity and power that the United States has provided to India has promoted rapid reconciliation between China and India, while also deepening skepticism about India. The "India-Pacific Strategy" has plunged China into a frenzy of damage compensation to prevent an Indian-American war. alliance. When Modi reaffirmed "strategic autonomy" and was unwilling to accept the Indo-Pacific concept in public, China felt somewhat relieved that China had elevated the status of China-India relations to an unprecedented level, leading to a positive change in China-India relations. Since then, the Doklam crisis has erupted.

Since then, the American factor has become the most important consideration in China's India policy. For China, with the defense cooperation between the United States and India, the prospects of the US Army at sea and its southern borders and the Indian Army in the Indian Ocean have become more realistic and dangerous. Such cooperation will not only damage the security and stability of China's western borders, but also undermine China's strategic influence in South Asia. This will also impede China's ability to project electricity in the Indian Ocean and could threaten China's energy supply from the Middle East. Regionally and globally, U.S. recognition of India's leadership has weakened and weakened China's soft power, and encouraged other countries such as Japan and Australia to follow suit and seek closer relations with New Delhi.

The improvement of China-India relations shows an inconvenient fact: external factors mainly drive the harmony between China and India. If Washington does not adopt the "India-Pacific Strategy" and is consistent with India, China's trajectory towards India's policy will be very different. Before and after the Doklam confrontation, no endogenous factors in Sino-Indian relations have changed fundamentally, including unresolved border disputes, Sino-Indian competition for South Asian forces, long-standing Tibet issues, growing trade imbalances, Pakistani factors, and the two countries ’confrontation The perception of regional order is quite different. China may have concluded that it is in its interest to improve relations with India, but it decided to contact New Delhi because Beijing saw the United States sway India's preferences.

Although India has no place in China's view of India. According to the regional order, the United States provided India with an important position in the "India-Pacific Strategy." US President Donald Trump's India policy is the biggest factor, it has changed China's judgment on the importance of India's strategy, and prompted Beijing to appease New Delhi. However, if the assessment is that India has accepted a de facto alliance with the United States, then China will have to prepare for a radically different approach to India.

China's South Asian policy community is currently discussing the nature of India and the United States. Consistency and scalability of Indian preferences. China's consensus seems to be that India wants and needs to rely on the United States to balance China's growing regional dominance. The differences lie in the extent to which India will cooperate with Washington on this common agenda.

Chinese civilian observers and diplomats-both before and now-have lower expectations for India and the United States. Cooperation. To them, India and the United States seem to be inherently incompatible. In terms of strategic culture, India follows the non-aligned tradition, while the United States' global strategy is based on alliances. In terms of strategic goals, although confrontation seems to be the goal of the United States, India has not sought a full confrontation with China. In terms of partners, India seeks various partnerships, including cooperation with US rival Russia. In terms of technical compatibility, India has no intention to completely abandon Russia's weapon system, which at least makes the interoperability proposed by the United States a challenge. For these Chinese experts, India and the United States are tactical for expediency, and they lack systematic commitment and binding arrangements. When contradictory calculations emerge (and will occur), India-US

and their counterparts pay more attention to foreign and foreign policy, and Chinese defense strategists and security experts are concerned about the growing Indian-US relationship. contact. They believe Washington is proposing to India proposals that India cannot refuse, including but not limited to defense industry cooperation, arms sales, and information and intelligence sharing. Even if India believes that it maintains self-government, Chinese strategists still believe that India will be seduced, entangled and may fall into an institutionalized framework for cooperation. Despite its desire for autonomy, it cannot later refuse.

For the hardliners in Beijing, the benefits of the United States in terms of substance and diplomacy have made New Delhi courageous to adopt a more risky policy towards Pakistan, and it has also adopted a more confident attitude toward China in negotiations. In the region, China is increasingly vigilant about the unstable effects of Modi's foreign policy. From Beijing's point of view, Modi has a soft spot for his Hindu nationalism, and was recently strengthened by his victory over Article 370, which changed Kashmir's legal status and controversial citizenship laws. In addition, Modiism directly reflects the Chinese's risk-seeking or at least risk-neutral policies towards Pakistan. The Chinese are inherently distrustful of the foreign policy of any country related to radical domestic politics. This is a painful lesson that China learned from the Cultural Revolution. Taking India as an example, China is also concerned that ethnic and religious conflicts within its borders could spread across the border.

Impact on crisis management in South Asia

The changing balance and unification of forces among the United States, China, India and Pakistan has a crucial impact on the dynamics of crisis in South Asia. Despite the escalation of relations, the suspicion and internal hostility between China and India have actually deepened since the implementation of the Indo-Pacific strategy. Regional dynamics have changed, putting the United States and India on the one hand and China and Pakistan on the other.

The dynamics of these changes will have a significant impact on US policy towards South Asia and future crisis management. The prospect of China playing a useful and constructive role in the future India-Pakistan crisis is inevitably weakened. In the 2019 Pulwama crisis, China publicly called for downgrades and restraint as usual, but some have questioned the information Beijing and Pakistan shared. China may increasingly see South Asia as a zero-sum game-any win for India will be a loss for Beijing and vice versa. As a result, China will be more inclined to manipulate games than the United States and India to increase its strategic returns. In that case, the best scenario the United States hopes for is probably to keep China from being a saboteur.

In the past, the United States sought Chinese constructive support in crisis management between India and Pakistan. This role depends on the perception of the relative balance of power between India and Pakistan. But as Beijing keenly observes, the delicate balance of power between India and Pakistan is increasingly leaning towards New Delhi. If Pakistan is no longer able to act as China's Indian balancing country in South Asia, then China's most direct remedy is to strengthen Pakistan through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which is a large amount of capital and infrastructure projects injected into the revival of Pakistan's economy. However, if the strategy is unsuccessful in the near future, China can participate directly through further forms of security assistance.

As competition between China and the United States and India intensifies on the one hand, and in the event of a crisis, China will have no incentive to "rescue" Pakistan. In China, it is widely believed that India's appetite will only grow if China makes concessions and forces Pakistan to lend a helping hand. From Beijing's perspective, Modi's adventurous spirit has been inspired by the new discoveries in India and the United States. For example, India withdrew Article 370 five months after its marginalization in Pulwama, which directly challenged China's territorial claims in Ladakh. For China, all its contribution to Pakistan will not be considered as a goodwill of China, but a concession due to India's strength. According to this logic, India will make more demands on China.

The subtle changes in China's calculations of the South Asian crisis management do not mean that Beijing will actively promote or accelerate the South Asian crisis. Given China's responsive strategic culture and the fact that its strategic priority lies in the Western Pacific, it is almost unthinkable that China will deliberately promote a confrontation to change the status quo in South Asia. Traditionally, China has used diplomatic mediation to ease the crisis between India and Pakistan. However, given the changing balance of power and external alliances in South Asia, a defensive and vulnerable China is unlikely to be as helpful as the United States hopes.

However, in the next period, China may be more helpful in a situation where Washington regards crisis management in South Asia as an overriding priority and China's cooperation is indispensable. Since relations with Washington have plummeted in recent years, China has been desperately seeking issues that can still cooperate with the United States to prove that Sino-US relations have not been repaired. If Washington urges Beijing to cope with the South Asian crisis, China will be willing to cooperate. But in that case, it is foreseeable that China is unlikely to push for a long-term solution so that it can continue to take advantage of the United States' need for Chinese cooperation, just as it did with North Korea. However, given the prevalent competition between Beijing and Washington, crisis management in South Asia may be another incident of collateral damage.


Although China has publicly accepted India and India ’s official promotion of China-India relations to unprecedented heights, Beijing ’s distrust and hostility towards India have deepened, and vice versa. Despite the incompatible interests of the two countries on a number of key issues, there is little opportunity to resolve these differences as quickly as possible. At the same time, China is trying to stabilize relations with India and prepare for future destruction.

China and India are both big countries with regional hegemonic ambitions and potential. Until the two countries reach a mutually agreed compromise in regional arrangements, their structural conflicts are irreconcilable. Efforts to resolve internal frictions such as border disputes and trade imbalances are foreseen to help facilitate this compromise. But in an era of great power confrontation and domestic populism, such efforts will be extremely difficult.

Sun Yun is the director of Stimson Center China Program and co-director of East Asia Program.

Picture: Good Free Photos (Photo by Jeevan)

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