Alternative Strategies towards China: Charting India’s Course for the Next Decade
Sino-Indian bilateral ties at the start of the 21st century saw the two sides putting behind them the contretemps that followed India’s 1998 nuclear tests and rapid growth of their economic interactions. It soon began to be claimed that economic imperatives would be the new driver in their relationship, one that many held also would be the defining relationship of the new century. However, neither the sentiment nor the expression that it engendered, namely, ‘Chindia,’ retains much salience now at the beginning of a new decade.
There are a number of reasons for this state of affairs. For one, the boundary dispute and the attendant Tibet factor have had a certain immutable quality that continues to infect all aspects of the bilateral relationship. For another, the distrust and suspicion so engendered between India and China have been aggravated by their simultaneous rise and resultant geopolitical competition for friends and influence. This has even affected their economic relationship, casting fresh doubts on the validity of the assertion that economic interdependence makes for better neighbours.
The challenge remains for India, to fashion a coherent and proactive China policy taking into account the current trajectory of bilateral relations and flow of global geopolitics. These appear to indicate that for at least the next decade, Sino-Indian relations are unlikely to improve spectacularly. Most large issues between them, including the boundary dispute, are likely to remain unresolved at least until after 2017, when the 19th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party is expected to reaffirm the sixth generation of China’s leaders in power and by which time India too, is likely to have a younger generation of leaders at the helm of affairs with less direct memory of the 1962 conflict.
What then should India’s China policy for the next decade look like? How can India maximize its strengths in diplomatic and other arenas vis-à-vis China in a manner that can push forward the positive aspects of the bilateral relationship while at the same time reduce chances for actual physical conflict of even a limited nature?