China and India: Cooperation or Conflict?
Jabin T Jacob ·       

The authors begin by noting that relations between Beijing and New Delhi cannot be examined in a strictly bilateral context. The USSR, the US and Pakistan, have always been variables in the Sino-Indian relationship. While concentrating on the post-1998 nuclear test period, Sidhu and Yuan have done a good job of drawing out the various links to the Chinese threat as a motivating factor for the development of the Indian nuclear programme noting that several other factors, besides China and Pakistan, worried India and led it to take the crucial decision. These included the indefinite extension of the NPT in 1995, and the imminent entry into force of the CTBT before 1999 was out.

The authors contend that Chinese perceptions of India as reflected in their three defence white papers indicated that the tests did not directly affect China?s security. There is certainly an element of truth to this, in that various Chinese analysts have pointed out that the tests only guaranteed that India could not go beyond a point in a military confrontation with Pakistan. However, as the authors, themselves declare in another place, India?s nuclear tests were a ?wake-up call for China?. Indeed, Chinese analysts have increasingly let it be known, despite their anger at the tests, that May 1998 changed the way that the Chinese perceived India. Very often, Chinese documents in the public domain have to be analyzed for what they leave out as much as for what they address.

In a chapter devoted to the two nations? threat perceptions of each other, the authors observe that the real indirect Chinese challenge to Indian security arises from the US buildup of its missile defences and the nature of the Chinese response to it as well as the increasingly tense security environment across the Taiwan Straits. The point about US actions leading to an increased Chinese threat perception is yet to be explored adequately in India and not often stressed in security analyses.

The compulsions of both India and China on ?the long and winding road? to cooperative security are clearly enumerated and analyzed. Of particularly interest is the explanation of the changing Indian understanding of the utility of CBMs. Before the Cold War, India used cooperative security to counter the diplomatic pressure exerted by the US and other Western powers. However, since then, India has begun to value CBMs not merely as diplomatic and political tools but as the means to enhance its own security vis-�-vis its neighbours. However, Sino-Indian CBMs remain largely declarative and have not registered any substantial progress in the key areas of specific force reductions, implementation and verification.

The chapter titled ?Decisionmaking in a Time of Popular Indifference?, presents a succinct account of the thinking in India and China on their policies towards each other. The authors note that the PLA?s influence in high-level policymaking has been substantial, particularly in the foreign policy arena, since the Fourteenth Party Central Committee was elected in 1992. They believe that, besides paying increasing attention to the actions of the Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry, when these affected its own institutional interests and responsibilities, the PLA also continues to exert significant influence on the domestic political scene. The PLA, say Sidhu and Yuan, might contend that even if Chinese political objectives could be pursued using non-aggressive means, the mechanism to achieve these objectives might lie in following military logic that may thus need to be offensive and preemptive in nature.

While a more influential military certainly would promote its own interests, the authors question whether China?s security policy would necessarily be more threatening to its neighbours as a result. The PLA pays attention to India?s military spending and capabilities, but this does not automatically mean that even a ?hawkish PLA? has any ?incentive to seek an adversary in India?. This last point is one that our very own hawks in the defence establishment and prominent think-tanks in the country must understand, rather than continue to view China in hues of being the inscrutable, oriental other. The authors also observe that due to the lack of people-to-people contacts and economic interaction, the debate tends to be seen from the security angle. What they hint at is that addressing these lacunae points to a way of advancing the relationship and preventing the security-minded on both sides from turning overly alarmist about the ?designs? of either nation.

The Chinese government has also begun to pay increasing attention to what its expanding national security research bureaucracy has to say. And the debates here, whether to do with foreign policy or security issues, are increasingly open and transparent in nature. Here again, is a section of the Chinese decision-making process that outsiders ignore at their own cost. Learning and adaptation, the authors stress are the keys to achieving progress and positive momentum in their relationship. The disappointment in this section stems from the fact that despite their stress on primary Indian and Chinese sources, the bulk of the analyses on the PLA comes from Western sources rather than Chinese sources. Hence, the various shades in Chinese thinking on Sino-Indian relations are not readily apparent

The concluding chapter would have been far more useful had the authors mapped out scenarios over differing time scales rather than over just the next ten years, which is too short a time for either nation to move forward substantially from current positions. Thus, the impact of the Sino-Pak connection is rather overdone, especially when it is the Americans who are crawling out of the woodwork in Pakistan. Similarly, a Sino-Indian entente strong enough to threaten US interests, as posited by the authors, is an overly optimistic view, and unlikely to materialize in the given time frame, if ever. Sidhu and Yuan are however right in saying that the border issue remains the principal contention between China and India and that it is likely to be defy a solution for some time to come.

Overall, this work is must reading on Sino-Indian relations and should go into several editions over the following years, once the typos are out of the way. It is a well-ordered, and well-structured analyses of a spectrum of views from Indian, Chinese and Western sources. Where the authors could have done more is in the area of examining the domestic political and socioeconomic limitations in either country. For example, China?s problems of regionalism and fraying centre-local relations are mentioned in passing, but these are crucial problems that place real limits on the abilities of the central government and indeed, the PLA. Inter-provincial relationships ? whether cooperative or confrontational ? are another limiting factor in China. Problems of a similar nature are also observable in India. And increasing globalization and its impact are likely to queer the pitch still further in both countries. In this scenario, domestic stability and peace on the borders are required as the Chinese have been stressing for over two decades now. India should itself note this and take heed of in its own case. A sensible assessment of the relative weaknesses of each other in such a situation, in the short- to medium-term should prevent security analyses on both sides from developing a hard-line or hysteric mode in the name of realism.