The rise and rise of China represents one of contemporary history’s tectonic shifts. For an India that fancies itself as an emerging superpower, learning to live with an assertive China is one of its greatest foreign policy challenges, especially as its ambitions are sometimes aligned with the Chinese and sometimes at odds. A People’s Daily commentary (Sept 15) points out, “India is still a lesser power than China in terms of its economic and military might, both conventional and non-conventional .”
How can New Delhi and Beijing achieve a steady state of equilibrium that gives both sides the comfort of predictability, and a resultant confidence in each other? That’s a question nagging not just India’s foreign policy mandarins, but students and practitioners of diplomacy worldwide. As one of the architects of India’s China policy (who will be unnamed as will be many interviewed for this story) says: “For India, coping with the rise of China is not a luxury; they’re right next door.”
Indian policy makers find China’s approach to India quite mystifying. On the border, China has vastly superior military machinery. Its economic muscle is much bigger. And yet it appears keen to avoid any confrontation along the 4,056-km undemarcated border. But on many issues of bilateral import, China takes a far more belligerent stand – like seeking to nix India’s bid for a place at the UN Security Council; mounting a last-minute scramble to stop the nuclear deal in Vienna; trying to keep India out of an Asian economic community ; blocking ADB from giving Arunachal money for a water project; and denying Arunachal residents Chinese visas.
Indian officials will tell you China’s assertiveness is there for all to see – in Australia, in Japan, with the US. Susan Shirk, former diplomat and author of China: Fragile Superpower , tempers the growing unease about Chinese aggressiveness. “I don’t see China as being very assertive ,” she told TOI Crest. “Its influence has certainly grown. But China makes a great effort to avoid being seen as aggressive , especially in international organisations and in diplomacy. With neighbours, China has been trying to prevent clashes, but that seems to have changed with India recently.”