Pokharan II and its Impact on Chinese Strategic Thinking

25 May, 1998    ·   95

Jonathan Pollack sees the fall out of the Pokharan tests on China's significant relations

Sino-US Relations



It does seem to me that the timing of the tests (i.e., very near to Clinton 's trip to China ) presents the Chinese with at least a public relations opportunity with the US . They could present themselves as the sober, stabilising Asian power, unlike India . In addition, the hope in some Indian circles that India could serve as a partner of the US in balancing China is part of the collateral damage (at least in the near term) of the Indian test. So the Chinese can be gratified that one potential option for responding to the growth of their power is off the table, at least for now. It also seems to me that the Chinese are inclined to let others in the international community (especially the Americans) do their heavy lifting for them.



Sino-Pakistan Relations



But the more interesting question is how the Chinese may be counselling Islamabad at the moment. I suspect that security guarantees from Beijing will look much more persuasive and compelling to the Pakistanis than anything the US might do on Islamabad 's behalf, though Pakistan would be only too happy to pocket any economic inducements and renewed security assistance that the US might be prepared to proffer. But how fully do the Chinese want to get into the extended deterrence game? And, given the domestic pressures that Nawaz Sharif is experiencing, will external assurances be sufficient for Pakistan to refrain from testing, at least in the near term?



Sino-Indian Relations



It's also my belief that the Chinese need to think long and hard about what sort of longer term relationship they seek with New Delhi , and what may be realistic under the new circumstances. I have to believe that more than a few leaders in Beijing remember October 1964, and the international opprobrium that greeted their first nuclear test. Remember Secretary of State Rusk's ominous characterisation of "a billion red Chinese armed with nuclear weapons"? No doubt the Chinese would much prefer if they, and they alone, are Asia 's only fully credentialed nuclear weapons power. But this is no longer possible. More than this, the Chinese certainly know that India , as a sovereign state, is fully within its rights to test, regardless of international reactions. So the Chinese, having been far more obsessive about Japan over the years, must now sort through the possibilities of having to deal with a much more assertive Indian state. This may compel them to rethink some favoured assumptions about the emergent character of the Asian strategic system.



This certainly promises to be a challenging time for us all.