Chinese and Indian Strategic Behavior: Growing Power and Alarm
PR Chari ·       

The two authors are MIT alumni, but their work experience differs. Gilboy comes from a background in business and is now with an energy firm in China, while Heginbotham is with Rand Corporation and has worked in military intelligence. They are concerned as the title informs with the strategic behavior of China and India - rising powers in the international system. What the title does not inform is that the alarm mentioned therein is being caused to the US. 

The glib assertion is often made in the US that China is “a potential competitor more than a potential partner, whereas the reverse is true of India. Washington ‘hedges’ against Beijing while it seeks to increase Indian power and enlist New Delhi as a partner in that hedging.” The authors disagree with this simplistic and deterministic formulation, and then set about exploring the international strategic behavior of  China and India  in four critical areas viz. strategic culture, foreign policy and use of force, military modernisation, and economic strategy. Their major finding is that the democratic-authoritarian divide between China and India does not conceal the essential similarity of their strategic behavior. Both are willing to use force to seek their national interests, consciously build up their military power, and aggressively seek trade advantages.

Considerations of space only permit a review of the critical area of military doctrines, force modernisation and budgets. US leaders are wary of China’s rapidly growing defense budgets, and its offence-oriented military doctrine that is buttressed by weapons acquisitions to permit the pursuit of an ‘anti-access’ and ‘area denial’ strategy. India’s defense budget is also increasing rapidly, and it is devoting a larger share of its GDP to military spending than China. India’s military doctrine is viewed as more provocative since it envisages preemptive attack in various circumstances. Both countries do not include many items of military-related spending in their defense budgets. But their security concerns (threat assessments) remain traditional and restricted to Taiwan (China) or Kashmir/ Pakistan (India), which impinges directly on American interests.

The US faces a complex, dual challenge from Asia’s two rising powers. It would be simplistic, therefore, to address China’s rise by partnering with India, which fails to appreciate that China and India may have their own national self-interests that could clash with those of the US. Besides, the interaction between China and India against the backdrop of a declining US is another complicating factor. Chindia is displaying several elements of convergence, but also binary features that characterise a zero-sum game. This milieu might persuade the US to pursue a nuanced containment-cooperation policy towards China, but also play the arbiter between India and China. Sino-Indian relations could also resolve into a complex mix with tensions and instabilities co-existing alongside collaboration and cooperation.

Coming to policy approaches that could be pursued by the US towards China and India the authors believe its foreign policy should be founded on ‘nuanced, pragmatic realism’. Idealism is all very well, they say, but it cannot trump national interests in dealing with others states. Hence, the US should intensify its economic and diplomatic relations with India before providing more military and political support. Vis-à-vis China, the US should establish robust deterrent capabilities, but adopt military postures that minimise the risks of destabilising reactions in response. Finally, since material power and capability will define long-term American relations with China and India, the US should recognise the technological and economic challenges from them. Innovative technology and economic strength have been the traditional American assets and sources of its power; hence the authors advise Washington to pursue domestic policies for retaining and maximising these advantages.

In our view, all these solutions will also be influenced by the vagaries of domestic politics in all three countries. The impending leadership changes in China would usher a new generation into power that might, hopefully, be more internationalist and less nationalist in their strategic behavior. The US presidential elections later this year might provide a second term to President Obama, who could then proceed more confidently to pursue his liberal inclinations; but the Manmohan Singh government shows little signs at present of shaking off its despondency and policy paralysis, so nothing is clear about its future strategic behavior. 

Speaking generally, history is replete with instances of rising powers coming into conflict with the established reigning power. In his book On China, Henry Kissinger, compares Anglo-German relations in the last century with Sino-American relations at the present juncture, while predicting the inevitability of their clashing. Germany consolidated itself in the late nineteenth century by unifying some thirty-eight small states and principalities: China emerged in the first half of the twentieth century as a Communist state after two centuries of foreign domination. But, the US has embedded itself in the Western Alliance, while China has embroiled itself in the turbulence of Asia’s territorial disputes and unresolved sovereignty issues. India’s rise, for instance, has stirred up latent tensions and instabilities with China revolving around their half-century long border dispute, which extends now into their internal security challenges, economic reform processes and relations with regional countries.

The major concerns in this book are with the strategic behavior of China and India in the international system, and its implications for the US. What is in China’s or India’s interests are not the concern of the authors, which has sparked much criticism in New Delhi that is plainly excessive. In fact, we have a carefully reasoned argument in this book, and students of the triangular relationship between India, China and US relations will greatly profit from its study.