Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Containment with Chinese Characteristics

Containment with Chinese Characteristics
Beijing Hedges against the Rise of India
By Christopher Griffin
Posted: Thursday, September 7, 2006

AEI Online
Publication Date: September 7, 2006

No. 3, September 2006

Although China and India have announced that their relationship is important enough to “reshape the world,”[1] Beijing views its increasingly important ties with Delhi as a means to manage India’s growing strength. China has combined traditional strategic balancing and diplomatic engagement in an effort to set its own terms for India’s emergence as a great power. Without American support, India is at risk of being boxed in by Beijing’s containment strategy.

In an impressive display of whirlwind diplomacy, China and India have just negotiated a series of major agreements: a strategic partnership in May 2005, a memorandum on energy cooperation in January 2006, and a memorandum of understanding on military relations in May 2006. Chinese observers point to these agreements as proof that Beijing and Delhi refuse “to become sacrifices of contention between big powers” and that “neither of them has seen the growth of the other side as a threat but, instead, as a development opportunity for itself.”[2]

But all is not as it seems in Asia. Indeed, the more one follows Sino-Indian relations, the more it appears that Beijing has ripped a page from what it perceives as the U.S. playbook for containing a rising power. The People’s Daily recently summarized U.S. policy toward China:

There have been two tendencies in the United States in the formulation of its China policy, one holding China as a potential rival that must be contained on all sides; the other believing China’s momentum is irreversible. . . . [It must therefore] be engaged to play a “responsible” and “constructive” role. Washington’s China policy in recent years has turned out a combination of the two, while its [recent] acts are all-sided containments under the cloak of engagement words.[3]

As frustrating as Beijing finds this perceived policy of “all-sided containments under the cloak of engagement,” it has found the approach increasingly useful in its own relationship with India.

Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai?

The modern Sino-Indian relationship opened on an optimistic note that is difficult to recall today. When Beijing and Delhi established formal relations in 1950, each had recently finished bitter struggles for independence and then stood at the vanguard of a global post-colonial movement. The implications of this sea change in international affairs appeared so profound that Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru found it necessary to introduce a new concept to describe relations among nonaligned states: Panchsheel, widely known as the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence.

The Chinese government embraced the concept (which appears in both countries’ diplomatic statements to this day), and the Sino-Indian relationship was celebrated as forming the nucleus of a new world order. Indeed, the Indian media were encouraged by Nehru’s government to use the term “Hindi-Chini bhai bhai,” or “India and China are brothers,” to describe the relationship.

Tensions simmered, however, beneath the smooth façade of Sino-Indian relations. The Panchsheel principles were just the introduction to a territorial settlement between Beijing and Delhi that did not resolve several major disputes, largely concerning the McMahon Line negotiated in 1914 to establish a border between British India, de facto independent Tibet, and the Republican Chinese government (which signed the agreement but did not ratify it). Nehru considered an important part of India’s stature that the McMahon Line stand, while the Communist Chinese government considered it an effort to enjoy the gains of an imperial British land grab.

Conflict broke out in October 1962, when the dispute over the Sino-Indian border in the area of Aksai Chin (near Kashmir and under Chinese control but claimed by India) and Arunachal Pradesh (east of Bhutan and under Indian control but claimed by China) erupted into warfare. After clearing the Indian Army from Arunachal Pradesh, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) withdrew and established a line of control along India’s claimed border.[4] China achieved all its goals in this conflict, known as the Sino-Indian War. Possession of Aksai Chin secured a direct supply route between Tibet and Xinjiang, while Nehruvian delusions of grandeur lay safely in shambles--so much so that one scholar ventured that China’s “strategy as it unfolded after 1959 was designed not so much to gain possession of a few thousand miles of mountainous territory . . . as to erode India’s position as a power of some consequence on the Asian scene.”[5]

For the next two decades, China consolidated its 1962 victory against India by supporting strategic proxies against Indian interests, most notably in its support of Pakistan during the 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pakistani wars. Chinese policy was characterized by declarations to the effect that “should the Indian expansionists dare to launch aggression against Pakistan, the Chinese government and people will, as always, firmly support the Pakistani government and people.”[6]

While the declarations of Chinese support could not save Pakistan from repeated humiliations in its fights with India, they drew lines that Delhi knew it could not cross in its fights with Islamabad without possibly triggering Chinese intervention. Meanwhile tensions along the border kept Indian forces diverted to the contested northern front, especially Arunachal Pradesh, a remote territory enveloped on three sides by foreign frontiers and dependent upon supplies delivered through the 21-kilometer-wide Siliguri Corridor. Also, beginning at some point in the 1980s, China initiated covert support for Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program.

In the 1980s, however, Sino-Indian relations began to thaw as the leadership in Beijing sought to distance itself from both the Soviet and American Cold War camps, leading to the launch of an “omnidirectional” foreign policy in Asia. This modified approach toward the subcontinent was reflected in China’s diminished verbal support for Pakistan during a near-outbreak of Indo-Pakistani hostilities over Kashmir, and likewise when the Chinese government gradually backed out of its support for Sri Lanka and Nepal during Indian disputes with those countries in 1987 and 1988.[7] Indeed, it appeared that Beijing was ready to recognize Indian ascendance in what it increasingly viewed as the strategic backwater of Southeast Asia.[8]

Nuclear Breakout, Nuclear Deal

China’s new approach toward India ran into trouble after 1991, when a newly reformed Indian economy recovered from crisis and entered a period of rapid growth, allowing Delhi to climb the ranks of international arms importers quickly. While India’s economic dynamism put pressure on the Sino-Indian relationship, the tipping point came on May 11, 1998, when the Indian government detonated three nuclear devices in the first of a series of tests conducted by Delhi and Islamabad that month.

The tests revealed the suspicions that Beijing and Delhi continued to harbor. In an explanatory letter that then-Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee sent to world leaders, he specifically referred to China (“an overt nuclear weapons state . . . which committed armed aggression against India in 1962”) as a reason for the Indian bomb.[9] Senior Chinese statesman Qian Qichen responded that “international condemnation [of the tests] is totally justified” and pointed out that “[w]hat is particularly unacceptable is that India has gone so far as claiming that it conducted the nuclear tests because of China’s threat.”[10] The People’s Liberation Army Daily added that the nuclear tests have “further exposed [India’s] ambition of seeking regional hegemony in the military sphere.”[11]

While Qian condemned India’s nuclear tests, the Chinese government used its presidency of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to craft an international condemnation. UNSC Resolution 1172 called for India and Pakistan to scrap their nuclear weapons programs and join the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as non-nuclear weapons states. The resolution was far harsher than a U.S.-drafted statement of the four other permanent members of the UNSC.[12]

Despite its condemnation of India’s nuclear weapons program, China declined to impose any sanctions on either India or Pakistan, still viewing the latter as a useful balancer on the subcontinent while Beijing entered into a period of diplomatic rapprochement with Delhi that concluded with Vajpayee’s June 2003 state visit to Beijing.

The likely explanation for China’s Janus-faced handling of the 1998 South Asian nuclear breakout was that while it felt threatened by India’s nuclear program, it also recognized that the tests had set the diplomatic ball rolling by pulling America into the region, a process that continued through the 1999 Kargil Crisis, the September 11 terrorist attacks against the United States, and the near-outbreak of war between India and Pakistan following a December 2001 attack against India’s parliament.

Although India and China trumpeted Vajpayee’s 2003 visit to Beijing as proof of progress, the progress between the two countries was overtaken by a pair of bilateral agreements announced by India and the United States in the summer of 2005. The June 28 “New Framework for the U.S.-India Defense Relationship” overturned longstanding Chinese assumptions about India’s regional power and its ties to Washington, and the July 18 Joint Statement pledged the United States to aid India’s civil nuclear power program.

China met the July 2005 nuclear deal with muddled hostility, as the Chinese government sought to criticize it without undercutting its newly improved relationship with India. On July 25, the foreign ministry stated that Beijing hoped “the relevant cooperation between [the United States] and India will be conducive to safeguarding the regional peace and stability in Asia.”[13] The party mouthpiece the People’s Daily meanwhile repeated criticism of the nuclear deal from American analysts, arguing that Washington viewed its relationship with India as a way to pressure China.[14]

The Chinese government has been remarkably conciliatory toward the nuclear deal, signaling that it will not veto its approval in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), where its opposition could pose a major setback. The apparent logic behind China’s moderation on the nuclear deal is Beijing’s perception that any adverse strategic consequences of U.S.-Indian nuclear cooperation could be counteracted through similar support of Pakistan’s civil nuclear program.

A March 2006 People’s Daily article indicated that Beijing retains the option of acting through strategic proxies[15] to undercut any gains that the United States and its allies make as a result of the nuclear deal: “The agreement will have its ‘rippling’ effect, which means that Pakistan, which has a similar position as India on the nuclear issue, may make similar demands and Iran may feel even more resentful of this ‘double principle’ in the current nuclear dispute.”[16]

Within a month of issuing this veiled threat, reports surfaced that Beijing had entered into talks with Islamabad on supplying a 2,000-megawatt nuclear power plant.[17] And China is in a strong position to press its case for cooperation with Pakistan--Beijing can make approval of its support for Pakistan a basic condition for supporting the U.S.-Indian nuclear deal at the NSG, a necessary step for Indian-American cooperation. China has thus set the stage for itself and its proxies to retain regional strategic ascendancy.[18]

Ties that Bind: Military Contacts and the Contested Border

While China is moving to contain the fallout from the U.S.-Indian nuclear deal, it is also working to maintain its longstanding conventional military superiority over Indian forces, despite the latter’s recent gains. The central elements of this effort have been a combination of bilateral agreements that will give Beijing better access to India’s evolving military, and unilateral moves intended to strengthen its own position along the countries’ contested border and in the Indian Ocean.

Despite the global media focus on the nuclear deal in the summer of 2005, Beijing was far more concerned with a less-noted agreement signed between Indian defense minister Pranab Mukherjee and U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The June 28 “New Framework for the U.S.-India Defense Relationship” committed Washington and Delhi to cooperation in thirteen substantive areas such as joint operations, intelligence sharing, and technology transfer.[19]

The New Framework is disconcerting to the Chinese government because it represents a major step forward in the development of U.S.-Indian defense cooperation that has accelerated since the September 11 terrorist attacks. The United States and India now organize regular exercises in which their militaries conduct sophisticated operations such as at-sea refueling, landing helicopters on ships at sea, and mixed force-on-force mock engagements.

The lesson of this cooperative experience for the United States and India has been that while the latter seeks to maintain its strategic autonomy, it needs American support if it is to break away from its longstanding role as a client of Russian arms--a position that left it operating the same weapons as most of its neighbors, including China--and as a player on the wrong side of the growing technological gap between the American defense industrial base and the rest of the world.[20]

Closer Indian ties to the United States defense establishment have tremendous implications for the military balance in Asia. They have first meant that the United States is moving closer to recognizing India as what the Bush administration calls a “responsible, democratic nation” that can be entrusted with responsibility for security in the Indian Ocean if U.S. forces are ever called to deploy rapidly to other theaters. And while the global superpower is inviting India to develop a dominant maritime position, Delhi’s ever closer relationship with Washington will enhance its ability to do so.

Indian leaders are keen to use the strategic partnership with the United States to introduce into India advanced U.S. technology, learn America’s most successful operational practices, and give India the chance to integrate its widely dispersed military into an effectively unified force. Defense industrial ties with the United States promise to make this transformation sustainable over the long term as Delhi collaborates with Washington in the design and production of new generations of weapons systems.[21]

Chinese observers have not let these developments pass without comment. On July 7, 2005, the People’s Daily published an article titled “Washington Draws India in against China,” in which it declared that the New Framework was “partly intended to diminish China’s influence in this region and to safeguard and expand U.S. strategic interest [sic] in Asia.”[22]

The article continued by pointing out that the provisions for defense industrial cooperation are “of special significance given the fact that the United States on the one hand presses the European Union to keep [its] arms embargo on China and urges Israel to cancel arms sales to China while on the other hand sign[ing] a wide-ranging defense agreement with India.” Despite China’s rapidly developing defense industrial base, it cannot help but acknowledge its losses in being largely cut off from American, European, and Israeli markets, especially while India has access.

The first component of China’s response to these adverse developments has been to seek new routes to Delhi through political agreements that will permit greater Chinese observation of the Indian military. Most important is a memorandum of understanding (MoU) that Mukherjee signed with Cao Gangchuan, China’s minister of national defense, in May 2006. The MoU commits the two countries to a regimen of joint military exercises, collaboration in counterterrorism, anti-piracy, and search-and-rescue efforts, as well as regular military exchanges.[23]

Upon signing the MoU, Mukherjee drew the guarded conclusion that India’s “ties with China have reached a certain degree of maturity. . . . [We] are striving to address our differences in a proactive and purposeful manner without allowing them to affect the comprehensive development of our relationship.”[24] Other Chinese assessments have been more sanguine, as characterized by the People’s Daily commentary that the MoU will “foster a favorable international and regional situation, and provide a strategic foundation for mutual trust” with the opportunity for India to use the framework to “play a very important and positive role in maintaining peace in the Asia-Pacific region and across the world.”[25]

One Indian analyst pointed out the source of this divergence in views when he observed that the agreement appears to have three major implications for the Chinese side that Delhi does not share:

One, China has taken the growing ties between India and the United States more seriously than it took the 1998 nuclear blasts by India. Two, the MoU is undoubtedly a Chinese initiative to seek a better understanding of the thinking within the Indian armed forces. And three, the MoU will not assist in a speedier resolution of the border dispute. . . . China’s only way of determining the progress of military relations between India and the U.S. is by having formal ties with the Indian defense ministry.[26]

Seen in this light, it is not surprising that Beijing should be satisfied with the arrangement. And the American experience of military ties with China in the 1990s indicates that Delhi will find its new partnership a flawed one. The Sino-American relationship has been plagued by a lack of reciprocal transparency, as China sought to gain greater access to technical components of the U.S. military without raising the curtain on its own forces.[27] India may find China an eager partner at the negotiating table, but if it looks beneath China’s “cloak of engagement words,” it may yet find a pattern of containment.

That pattern appears to be emerging first along the Sino-Indian border, where China is bolstering its military position by upgrading its infrastructure. This move is strategic because although China has always enjoyed a position with strong operational superiority over India along the contested areas in Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh, it is sensitive to the gradual deterioration of its position in the Indian Ocean as Delhi develops new generations of weapons systems with American support.

The strategic consequences of India’s growing naval power are clear. Every additional barrel of oil that China imports leaves Beijing more vulnerable to a disruption of the sea lanes. If Delhi’s naval modernization effort turns the Indian Ocean into India’s ocean, the risk for Beijing may grow unacceptable. In response, it appears that just as Beijing has long leveraged its claims against Indian-controlled territory in Arunachal Pradesh to legitimize its occupation of Aksai Chin, it may now leverage its superiority along the Sino-Indian border to remind Delhi of the costs of conflict on the Indian Ocean.

The July 1 opening of a railway linking Beijing and Lhasa is the most important symbol of this Chinese strategy. This new link strengthens Beijing’s grasp on Tibet: the number of ethnic Han Chinese arriving in Lhasa, where Chinese already outnumber Tibetans, has increased since the opening of the railway, and the PLA has also significantly enhanced its ability to deliver heavy weapons and logistical material to the region in the event of either a domestic disturbance or a conflict with India. Although one Chinese researcher has suggested that the “Indians’ worries [are] unnecessary because a country’s military strategy depends on its political intent,” Beijing’s position in Asia has benefited from reminding Delhi of China’s superiority along the border.[28]

China is also redressing the Indian Ocean balance directly through the “string of pearls” strategy. In recent years, Beijing has developed port facilities in Chittagong, Bangladesh; Sittwe, Burma (Myanmar); and Gwadar, Pakistan.[29] China has launched each of these developments through bilateral trade promotion agreements under which it pays most of the costs of dredging deep water ports, but it is also an element of a naval balancing strategy, as demonstrated by a Chinese-run radar station on Burma’s Coco Islands and the development of naval facilities in the Gwadar ports.

The potential drama surrounding these developments has not fully played out, but it is clear that despite recent bilateral summits in which the Chinese and Indian governments have exchanged pleasantries on cooperation to end border tensions, the dispute is unlikely to be resolved in the foreseeable future.[30] This will remain the case so long as China is able to bolster its strategic proxy Pakistan by strengthening its hold along the Indo-Tibetan border while developing a hedge against India’s growing naval power.[31]

The Race for Resources

The aspect of Sino-Indian relations that has received the most attention in recent years is the simultaneous sprint for energy supplies. China and India each face a triple bind in the energy market: their rapid growth rates (9.1 percent and 6.1 percent annual GDP growth over the last decade, respectively) that fuel energy demand; their inefficient energy use that requires more additional energy input per percentage growth of GDP than more developed countries; and their dependence upon on foreign products to satisfy their energy demands (40 percent and 70 percent of crude oil consumption from imports, respectively).[32]

Energy needs have driven China and India to a series of bidding wars for energy assets across the globe, experiences that have been especially sour for India. In a bid for Kazakhstan’s third largest commercial oil producer in August 2005, China outbid India when Kazakh authorities allowed Beijing to make an additional offer after the final official bid.[33] Two months later, a Chinese oil firm beat out its Indian competitor when Beijing offered to back up the commercial bid with some $2 billion in development aid (Delhi had offered a paltry $200 million aid package).[34] And in December 2005, Burma decided to build a natural gas pipeline to Yunnan Province in China rather than across Bangladesh to India, reflecting a combination of Bangladeshi indecision on the terms of the deal and Rangoon’s preference to foster trade with Beijing.[35]

Although Beijing came out on top of all of the Sino-Indian gas and oil bidding wars, each fight nonetheless resulted in inflated prices for the assets that China eventually got, leading the two countries to consider joint bids for energy assets. The two sides tested the waters of cooperation in December 2004, when Chinese and Indian oil firms made a successful joint bid for a set of fields in Canada, setting the stage for a January 2006 “Memorandum for Enhancing Cooperation in the Field of Oil and Natural Gas” that permits joint bids on energy assets in third countries.[36]

Although it was an Indian initiative, the memorandum is a major victory for the Chinese government, as Delhi acquiesced to playing the role of “junior partner” in Beijing’s globe-trotting campaign to secure energy resources. In addition to its symbolic significance, the new partnership means that as India and China enter into joint energy deals with third countries, they will develop common interests in the survival of what are--more often than not--unsavory regimes. Indeed, instead of creating a stable source of energy supplies, these deals are more likely to entangle India into disputes it might prefer to avoid.

While the logic that India should concede to joining the opponents it cannot beat is compelling, it is also weakens Delhi’s position vis-à-vis Beijing.

Institutionalizing Chinese Leadership

Since 2001, China has pursued an increasingly ambitious strategy of using regional forums to solidify its role as primus inter pares in Asia. This presents an even greater strategic challenge for India than energy arrangements.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is the most important forum to Beijing’s regional strategy. Founded under China’s leadership in June 2001 as a means to coordinate cooperation among China, Russia, and the central Asian republics, the SCO was quickly marginalized by the success of the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan later that year and the rapid development of security ties between Washington and several SCO members.[37]

Despite this setback, the SCO has reemerged in recent years as a significant actor as American energies have been sapped by the war in Iraq. The statement adopted at the June 2005 SCO Astana Summit formally marked the organization’s rebound as a Sino-centric bloc when the member states called for Washington to establish a timeline for withdrawal from central Asia, followed immediately by Uzbek president Islam Karimov’s eviction of U.S. forces from the Karshi-Kanabad airbase in southern Uzbekistan.

In the same month that SCO members delivered the Astana statement, the organization also welcomed India into the organization as an observer. Indian relations with the SCO have since been cool. While member states look at using the body as a nexus for collaboration on a wide range of political and security activities, Indian officials have repeatedly clarified that while “India is keenly interested in all activities focused on socio-economic development,” it does not extend the range of cooperative fields beyond those.[38]

The divide between Chinese and Indian views was on full display when Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh neglected to attend the June 2006 SCO summit in Shanghai, indicating in the words of one observer that “India was simply too important for a guest appearance, in contrast to Iran and Pakistan, which sent their presidents . . . [and] that India does not have the compulsions of a Mahmoud Ahmadinejad--in the doghouse internationally and desperate to say his piece on any available America-skeptic platform--or a Pervez Musharraf--a client of the Chinese leadership and looking to it to get some sort of parity with India in the Nuclear Supplier’s Group.”[39]

While Singh’s hands-off approach to the SCO may demonstrate a plausible strategy for maximizing the benefits and minimizing the costs of membership in the organization, it comes up short in light of China’s recent gains as an observer in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), a body founded in 1985 that also includes Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Pakistan, Nepal, and Bhutan.

In contrast to the SCO invitation for Indian membership, the SAARC invitation to China was the result of a diplomatic debacle in which the regional politics played out as “India against the rest.”[40] When Delhi tried to forestall the granting of observer status to China at the Dhaka Summit last year, Nepal (then receiving Chinese military assistance in the wake of an Indian arms embargo) made China’s observership a condition for supporting Afghanistan’s entry into the organization, a position that received broad support, especially from Pakistan.[41]

The consequence of Delhi’s capitulation is that India gained a seat in a Sino-centric, anti-American organization in exchange for giving China access to a body that is desperately looking for an additional player to challenge India’s preeminence in South Asia. India’s embarrassment in the SAARC membership process in 2005 will likely be a precursor to a permanent loss of influence in the organization.

China’s most ambitious project for regional leadership to date was its 2005 effort to transform the proposed East Asian Summit (EAS) into a Chinese-led outgrowth of the ASEAN+3 arrangement between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations members and Japan, China, and South Korea. Tokyo sought Australian and Indian participation in the meeting, a move that received support from Southeast Asia. When the Japanese proposal prevailed, Beijing quickly moved to invite Russian participation, an acknowledgement that if China could not lead the organization, it should be downgraded to serve as a regional “talk shop.” The EAS experience is a perfect example of China’s strategy of combining organizations (such as the SCO) that tie India down with those that leave it behind altogether.

The latter component of China’s strategy is most vividly displayed in the United Nations Security Council, in which Beijing uses its position as the sole permanent member state from Asia to guarantee that its regional competitors, Japan and India, are denied access.[42] It is possible that Security Council reform will be carried out--especially if the United States can avoid maneuvering itself into a position of de facto opposition to India’s bid for membership--but only when China feels that the political consequences of unilaterally blocking progress are too risky.

In sum, China has effectively engaged the regional organizations of Asia as useful bodies through which it can alternately bring India closer to the Sino-centric fold or minimize India’s voice at more critical forums. The closest that India has come to posing a credible response has been with the support of Japan, Southeast Asia, and the United States at a distance during the 2005 EAS debate.

Caveats and Conclusions

If China’s recent behavior toward India can be best explained as a containment strategy designed to guarantee that India rises on China’s terms, this conclusion should be qualified somewhat.

The most important caveat is that it is not obvious that the Chinese government is acting with a unified strategy. It is possible that policy toward each of the areas discussed here is being crafted independently by separate divisions of the Chinese bureaucracy. We know, however, that in recent years, China’s strategy toward India has moved up the policymaking food chain in Beijing.[43] Although a well-articulated “India strategy” may not have existed for much of China’s recent history, it is inconceivable that most Chinese action today does not serve an increasingly well-defined set of goals, and it is difficult to ascertain a more likely one than that which this paper has suggested.[44]

Americans should also recognize a divergence between China’s economic and security interests with India; we have the same problem with Beijing. As trade between China and India grows, the relationship will develop the defining characteristic of the Sino-American relationship: tremendous gains from cooperative economic development are matched by growing stakes in bilateral disputes.[45] This trend neither foreordains nor forestalls strategic competition, but it will continue to complicate Sino-Indian relations.

If China is pursuing a containment strategy against India, it has achieved some early key victories: guaranteeing that Pakistan will maintain rough nuclear parity on the subcontinent, co-opting Indian foreign policy interests through energy collaboration, and establishing a strong leadership position in regional political forums.

For American policymakers, this trend suggests that despite noted atmospheric improvements in the Sino-Indian relationship, efforts to launch a new era of Hindi-Chini bhai bhai will ultimately falter on the longstanding disputes between the countries.[46] In contrast, Indian-American ties can benefit from India’s long-term need for U.S. support if it is to effectively respond to China’s containment policy.

The various fields of Sino-Indian competition are multifaceted and intersect with American interests at many junctures. Therefore, there are countless opportunities for an American role. Washington should strive to:

Drive as hard a bargain as possible at the NSG. Pakistan is not India: it has sold nuclear plans wholesale to such rogue states as Libya and North Korea and is perennially unstable. If Sino-Pakistani nuclear cooperation cannot be avoided, it should be on strictly safeguarded terms.
Continue to support India’s military modernization by lowering licensing restrictions on arms exports to Delhi. The purpose should not be to fuel a Sino-Indian arms race, but to dissuade China from pursuing a path of revanchism that will unite other Asian countries against it in collaboration with the United States.
Maintain energy cooperation as a major plank of the U.S.-Indian relationship. India’s efforts to secure energy resources through overseas acquisitions are inefficient, and history predicts that they will be ineffective. India could benefit most from cooperation to upgrade its energy processing and distribution infrastructure.
Consider greater American participation in Asian regional forums. SAARC has already indicated that it would welcome Washington to an observer’s seat, a move that would help balance Beijing’s newfound influence with the body. A U.S.-led effort to reinvigorate a more inclusive body such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation would also provide an alternative to Chinese leadership in Asia.
These policies could improve America’s position in Asia and avoid some of the worst possible outcomes of Sino-Indian competition. As American policymakers debate Washington’s proper role in shaping India’s rise to great power status, they should keep in mind that Beijing has already chosen a leading role for itself.

Christopher Griffin is a research associate at AEI. Intern Shivani Kota provided research assistance, and editorial assistant Evan Sparks worked with Mr. Griffin to edit and produce this Asian Outlook.


1. John Lancaster, “India, China Hoping to ‘Reshape the World’ Together,” Washington Post, April 12, 2005.

2. Shih Chun-yu, “China and India Explore New Type of Relationship between Big Powers,” Ta Kung Pao, July 11, 2006.

3. “One Must Be Responsible for His Threats,” Renmin Ribao [People’s Daily], February 28, 2005.

4. The reasons for China’s withdrawal while maintaining its territorial claims remain in dispute. Beijing claims that it was to demonstrate the country’s sincere desire to settle the dispute through negotiation. Indian analysts suspect that the Chinese leadership calculated that by maintaining claims to Arunachal Pradesh, it would have a bargaining chip for negotiations over the more valued Aksai Chin. Also, the PLA had simply reached its logistical limits in the harsh terrain.

5. Nancy Jetly, “Sino-Indian Relations: Old Legacies and New Vistas,” China Report 30, no. 2 (April-June 1994): 220.

6. Waheguru Pal Singh Sidhu and Jing-dong Yuan, China and India: Cooperation or Conflict (London: Lynne Rienner, 2003), 19.

7. Ibid.

8. Susan L. Shirk, “One-Sided Rivalry: China’s Perceptions and Policies toward India,” The India-China Relationship: What the United States Needs to Know, eds. Francine R. Frankel and Harry Harding, (Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2004), 75 and 81.

9. Strobe Talbott, Engaging India: Diplomacy, Democracy, and the Bomb (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2004), 53.

10. “Qian: Nuclear Arms Race Likely if India Doesn’t Stop Tests,” Zhongguo Xinwen She [Chinese News Service], May 19, 1998.

11. “What Is the Intention of Wantonly Engaging in Military Ventures,” Jiefangjun Bao [People’s Liberation Army Daily], May 19, 1998.

12. Strobe Talbott, Engaging India, 74-75, 80.

13. D. S. Rajan, “China: Views on Manmohan Singh-Bush Joint Statement,” South Asia Analysis Group, August 8, 2005, available at www.saag.org/%5Cpapers15%5Cpaper1490.html (accessed on August 31, 2006).

14. Lu Yansong, “Short-Sighted Nuclear Deal,” Renmin Ribao, August 19, 2005.

15. For the best discussion of China’s use of strategic proxies as an instrument of foreign policy, see Justin Bernier, “China’s Strategic Proxies,” Orbis 47, no. 4 (Fall 2003): 629-643.

16. “Behind U.S.-India Nuclear Cooperation,” Renmin Ribao, March 4, 2006.

17. “Pak, China to Sign Nuclear Deal,” Asian Age, April 11, 2006.

18. Mohan Malik, “China Opposes U.S. Nuclear Deal for Fear of ‘Losing’ Influence,” Force, May 21, 2006.

19. Embassy of the United States to India, “New Framework for the U.S.-India Defense Relationship,” news release, June 28, 2005, available at http://newdelhi.usembassy.gov/ipr062805.html (accessed on August 19, 2006).

20. The notable exception in the region is Pakistan, which is a longstanding arms client of the United States. Indian strategists view each new arms sale to Islamabad as a betrayal, a continuing source of tension in bilateral relations.

21. Christopher Griffin, “What India Wants,” Armed Forces Journal 143, no. 10 (May 1, 2006): 16-17.

22. “Washington Draws India in against China,” Renmin Ribao, July 7, 2005, available at http://english.people.com.cn/20050707/print20050707_194676.html (accessed on August 14, 2006).

23. Christopher Griffin, “What India Wants,” 17-18.

24. Sridhar Kumarawami, “Pranab Spells Out Look East Policy,” Asian Age, June 12, 2006.

25. “China and India Cooperate to Find a Win-Win Path,” Renmin Ribao, June 8, 2006.

26. Pravin Sawhney, “New Initiative,” Force, June 13, 2006, available at www.forceindia.net/june/bottomline.asp (accessed on August 29, 2006).

27. Kurt Campbell and Richard Weitz, “The Limits of U.S.-China Military Cooperation, Lessons from 1995–1990,” The Washington Quarterly 29, no. 1 (Winter 2006-2006): 169-186.

28. Hu Liang, “Expert Claims to Enhance Sino-Indian Relations,” Ta Kung Pao, July 7, 2006.

29. For more on China’s maritime strategy in the Indian Ocean, see Christopher J. Pehrson, String of Pearls: Meeting the Challenge of China’s Rising Power Across The Asian Littoral (Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, 2006), 3-7.

30. Symbolizing the strength of the dispute was a recent international conference in New Delhi at which the Chinese consul general interrupted Mukherjee’s remarks to announce that “China never invaded India! . . . It is untrue and irresponsible to say that China invaded India.” “General Consul: China Never Invaded India,” Renmin Ribao, September 8, 2005.

31. Pravin Sawhney, “New Initiative.”

32. GDP figures are from the World Bank’s World Development Indicators online database, available at http://devdata.worldbank.org/wdi2006/contents/home.htm. For crude oil imports data, see “PRC, India State-Run Firms Discuss Joint Bids for Oil Assets in Kazakhstan,” Agence France Presse, June 8, 2006.

33. Indrajit Basu, “India Discreet, China Bold in Oil Hunt,” Asia Times Online, September 29, 2005, available at www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/GI29Df01.html (accessed on May 5, 2006).

34. Amitav Ranjan, “Let’s Shop for Oil, Gas Together: India, China,” Indian Express, August 24, 2005, available at www.indianexpress.com/res/web/pIe/full_story.php?content_id=76875 (accessed on May 5, 2006).

35. Anand Kumar, “Myanmar-Petrochina Agreement: A Setback to India’s Quest for Energy Security,” South Asia Analysis Group, January 19, 2006, available at http://saag.org/%5Cpapers17%51681.html (accessed on May 5, 2006).

36. “China, India Sign Energy Agreement,” China Daily Online, January 13, 2006, available at www.chinadaily.com.cn/english/doc/2006-01/13/content_511871.htm (accessed on August 28, 2006).

37. Mohan Malik, Dragon on Terrorism: Assessing China’s Tactical Gains and Strategic Losses Post-September 11 (Carlisle, PA: Institute for Strategic Studies, 2002), 33-35.

38. “India Supports Basic SCO Principles: Official,” Xinhua, June 13, 2006.

39. “Game in Shanghai--Ignore SCO, but not Central Asia,” Pioneer, June 17, 2006.

40. “China or Bust--SAARC in a Spin,” The News International (Pakistan), November 13, 2005.

41. “Countering India,” Asian Age, November 17, 2005.

42. Mohan Malik, “Security Council Reform: China Signals Its Veto,” World Policy Journal 22, no. 1 (Spring 2005): 19-29.

43. Susan L. Shirk, “One-Sided Rivalry,” 86-88.

44. Mohan Malik has also proposed a containment strategy explanation of Beijing’s behavior towards India in his essay “China’s Strategy of Containing India,” published on February 6, 2006, by the Power and Interest News Report, available at www.pinr.com/report.php?ac=view_printable&report_id=434&languageid=1 (accessed on September 3, 2006).

45. Trade has already shot up from $117.4 million in 1987 to $11.3 billion last year--a ninety-six-fold increase. Trade is expected to reach $100 billion by 2015, which is tremendous progress compared to recent growth but still paltry compared to the Sino-Japanese bilateral trade sum of $184.4 billion in 2005. “Sino-Indian Trade Could Reach $100 Billion by 2015,” Agence France Presse, May 12, 2006; “India, China to Register Trade of 20 Bn US Dollars by 2007,” Xinhua, March 16, 2006; Waheguru Pal Singh Sidhu and Jing-dong Yuan, China and India, 25.

46. For an overview of Indian perceptions on improved Sino-Indian relations, see Julie A. MacDonald et al., Perspectives on China: A View from India (McLean, VA: Booz Allen Hamilton, 2005), 25-29.

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