Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

Faults in our China policy


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- India-China realtions

This article tracks the faultline in India’s China policy that makes it an enduring tragedy. China never bought into India’s narratives of Asian unity and untied Asian front against the West. Instead, China cultivated its relations with the West and leveraged that for furthering its interests.

Enduring tragedy: India’s China policy

  • That tragedy is rooted in persistent political fantasies.
  • Refusal to learn from past mistakes.
  • And the belief that the US and the West are at the source of India’s problems with China.
  • The problem predates independence.
  • Each generation has been reluctant to discard the illusions that India’s China policy has nurtured over the last century.

Historical background

  •  Tagore went to China in 1924 with the ambition of developing a shared Asian spiritual civilisation.
  • He was accused by Chines of diverting Chins’s attention away from the imperatives of modernisation and, yes, westernisation.
  •  Jawaharlal Nehru approached China as a modernist and nationalist.
  • He met a delegation of Chinese nationalists at Brussels in 1927.
  • There he issued a ringing statement on defeating western imperialism and shaping a new Asian and global order.
  •  But in Second World War, Congress was unwilling to join hands with China in defeating Japanese imperialism.
  • Indian and Chinese nationalists could not come together for they were fighting different imperial powers.

Relations after independence

  • As India’s first PM, Nehru campaigned against the western attempt to isolate China.
  • Afro-Asian conference in Bandung, Indonesia in 1955 was attended by both.
  • Within five years war broke out in 1962.
  • Atal Bihari Vajpayee travelled to China in February 1979 to re-engage Beijing.
  • Before he could head home, Beijing had launched a war against a fellow communist regime in Vietnam.
  • That was an end of hope for Asian solidarity.
  • Rajiv Gandhi in 1988 sought to normalise relations with China while continuing to negotiate on the boundary dispute.

Other issues: Trade entanglement

  • Amid border dispute, other issues have taken a life of their own.
  • For example, the massive annual trade deficits.
  • India’s hope that economic cooperation will improve mutual trust will help resolve other issues was also dashed.
  • India’s massive trade deficit with China is now a little over half of its total trade deficit.
  • India is finding it hard to disentangle the deep economic dependence on imports from China.

Story of political cooperation: From unipolar to bipolar world

  • As the Cold War ended, India began political cooperation with China on global issues.
  • It was hoped that such cooperation will provide the basis for better bilateral relations.
  • It could not have been more wrong.
  • P V Narasimha Rao and his successors joined China and Russia in promoting a “multipolar world” [remember the US dominance].
  • Delhi is now struggling to cope with the emergence of a “unipolar Asia” — with Beijing as its dominant centre.
  • China’s rapid rise has also paved the way for the potential emergence of a “bipolar world” dominated by Washington and Beijing.

Engagement with West

  • China never worked with Indian on the ideas of building coalitions against the West.
  • While India never stopped arguing with the West, China developed a sustained engagement with the US, Europe and Japan.
  • Mao broke with Communist Russia to join forces with the US in the early 1970s.
  • Deng Xiaoping promoted massive economic cooperation with the US to transform China and lay the foundations for its rise.

Will staying away from West lead to good relations with China

  • China has leveraged the deep relationship with the West to elevate itself in the international system.
  • Delhi continues to think that staying away from America is the answer for good relations with Beijing.
  • Beijing sees the world through the lens of power.
  • Delhi tends to resist that realist prism.
  • India has consistently misread China’s interests and ambitions.
  • The longer India takes to shed that strategic lassitude, the greater will be its China trouble.

Facts that India needs to come to terms with

  • India must also recognise that China, like the great powers before it, wants to redeem its territorial claims.
  • China also has the ambition to bend the neighbourhood to its will, reshape the global order to suit its interests.
  • China has not hidden these goals and interests, but India has refused to see what is in plain sight.

Consider the question “Acknowledging Beijing’s rise, scale of challenge it presents, are first steps in crafting a new China policy” Comment.


Acknowledging China’s dramatic rise and recognising the scale of the challenge it presents is essential for Delhi in crafting a new China policy.

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uday teja
3 years ago

Please mention the source of article also


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