India’s China strategy needs to be debated

Context: The Chinese policy follows the principle of making headlines on India’s borders. The latest move, in April, saw them “renaming” 11 places in Arunachal Pradesh, which they consider to be “Zangnam” or, in English, “South Tibet”. The announcement was made after approval from the State Council, implying a green light from the very top of the Chinese system.

India-China Relations

  • Ever since the unresolved stand-off at Galwan in June 2020, there has been no serious attempt by Beijing at a resolution, let alone a restoration of the status quo ante, while several instances of further provocation have occurred from the Chinese side. 
  • Another border skirmish in December 2022 in the Tawang area showed that whatever policy the Ministry of External Affairs is masking with its anodyne statements, it is not ensuring deterrence.

India’s Tepid Response

The current response of Indian foreign policy despite of the subsequent reports of incursions seems to be tepid and scholars have identified following reasons for the same:

  • The growing power differential between the two countries act as a deterring force on India taking an aggressive stand against government.
  • Further there is also uncertainty about the strategic actions of major powers such as the U.S. in case of a military stand-off actually takes place between two hostile neighbours.
  • There is a wide military differential capability between the two countries and strategic reports have pointed out that India is not equipped for a major war with China. 
  • There is also pressure from Indian business interests who are anxious to safeguard trade as despite of the rhetoric (under Atmanirbhar Bharat) India’s trade dependence on China has now crossed over $100 billion.
  • Further there is a lack of consensus within the various ministries of the government about the kind of response the Chinese threat merits which is reflected in the non-coherent statements made by different heads of ministries.
  • At last there is a lack of political will within assertive and majoritarian government at the central level which seeks to safeguard its tough image domestically.

This brings us to the question that if India repeating the errors made in its pre-1962 engagement with Communist China? 

  • During 1962, PM Nehru’s vision of India and China as the two major south Asian civilizations led to India being one of the first countries to recognise the Communist government in China and ended up with its softening its line on China’s invasion and occupation of Tibet, its encroachment on India’s borders and its cartographical aggression in the pursuit of Chinese goodwill. 
  • PM Modi’s current policy seems eerily similar to what can be called as Chinese appeasement, and scholars believe that it could end just as badly if not exactly as it did in 1962.
  • Further the Chinese Communist Party has shored up its domestic credibility by valorising its international image. The earlier policy which was anchored in the “peaceful rise” theory, it is now about showing strength, determination, economic might and an unwillingness to compromise on what it sees as its core national interests. 
  • Previously China has always had a fear of being isolated in global affairs but today guided by the geopolitical interest and pragmatism in foreign policy, its assertiveness today is accompanied by diplomatic overtures in Europe, Russia and West Asia, to add an adroit diplomatic gloss to its uncompromising military determination.


  • When dealing with the Chinese, India must always remember Mark Twain’s observation, that history does not repeat itself, but it often rhymes.
  • The period since Galwan, 2020-23, is not the same as 1949-62, but the same pattern of appeasement and self-denial is ominously emerging.
  • India should not miss an opportunity to loudly and proudly raise matters of its own vital interest by not using a strategy that fractures China’s image by challenging it publicly on its transgressions.

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