Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

Understanding the anxieties behind Chinese aggression towards India


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Quad

Mains level : Paper 2- India-China relations


Chinese President Xi Jinping made a surprise visit to Tibet on July 21, signalling the seriousness with which China continues to take its Himalayan border dispute with India.

Understanding China’s strategic challenges and intensions

  • Demonstration of political confidence through aggression: More than a year after the clash at Galwan Valley, efforts to resolve the border crisis continue to move slowly.
  • The Chinese side has previously failed to complete troop withdrawals and revert to the status quo that the Indian side believed China agreed to.
  • China’s behaviour has been calculated to demonstrate political confidence.
  • Worsening strategic environment for China: Seen from Beijing, the strategic environment for China is beginning to worsen in South and Central Asia.
  • As the US withdraws and the Taliban advances in Afghanistan, China fears the prospect of instability and an emerging haven for terrorism directed against its policies in Xinjiang.
  • Even as China seeks to scale back the debt-laden BRI, such instability may also result in Beijing increasing its already overstretched external commitments — particularly in the security domain.
  • Re-emergence of Quad: China is deeply worried by the re-emergence and strengthening of multilateral opposition to China, and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (or “Quad”) between the US, Japan, Australia and India.
  • For China, this represents a persistent threat not only economically and in foreign policy, but also militarily along its maritime periphery in the South and East China Seas, as well as the Taiwan Strait.
  • As US multilateral cooperation with its partners has increased, Beijing has come to increasingly see itself as beset by threats on all sides.

China’s 2 possible responses to strategic challenges and its implications for India

  • 1) Wolf warrier diplomacy: So far, the response from China’s new class of “wolf warrior” diplomats to this emerging strategic challenge has been to only grow more assertive in rhetoric and behaviour.
  • China’s domestic politics: Response of wolf warrior diplomats may seem perplexing, given that it has served only to alienate other countries and isolate China further.
  •  China’s domestic politics in the lead up to the 20th Congress will mean that its leaders, diplomats and generals will be displaying maximum nationalistic fervour.
  • Implications for India: This may well mean China taking political and policy decisions, which in a normal season they would not because doing so could compromise Beijing’s longstanding diplomatic and strategic goals, including in dealings with India.
  • 2) Moderate approach to improve strategic position: But if instead of aggressive posture, China decided that it was better domestic politics to improve China’s strategic position in Asia amid its competition with Washington, Beijing’s diplomats may yet adopt a more moderate approach, including with India.
  • Implications for India: If stability can be restored to the China-India strategic relationship, this could provide a window for Asia’s two mega-economies to reopen their markets to each other.


Indeed, the choice China makes between these two alternatives will have implications for India and the rest of the world in their dealing with China.

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