China and India: Friends or Foes?

By Tucker, Mona Lisa D. | Air & Space Power Journal, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

China and India: Friends or Foes?


Tucker, Mona Lisa D., Air & Space Power Journal


Editorial Abstract: Even though China and India have a 20-year track record of cooperation, both countries have ample justification for proceeding with caution. On the one hand, US hegemony and greater US involvement in Asia may push the two neighbors toward even more cooperation. On the other hand, the degree to which one nation perceives the other as a threat could encourage closer ties with the United States.

SINCE ITS INCEPTION as an independent nation in 1947, India has followed its own drumbeat in developing foreign policy. Such an independent worldview and the desire to become a regional hegemon in South Asia has often put India at odds with the United States. Even though the two nations share democratic values, their values and interests have rarely converged in the world of international politics. India and China, who claim to be the world's two oldest and largest civilizations, also have had a seesaw-like relationship.1 This article examines India's and China's history of foreign policy and discusses their current relationship as well as possibilities for the future, both through the prism of US interests. Although both countries have developed a more cooperative relationship in the last 20 years, because India still sees China as a threat, it continues to pursue both additional nuclear capability and a stronger relationship with the United States. Some observers might argue that India and China are on a path of cooperation so as to effectively counterbalance US hegemony in Asia. This article, however, argues that, although India is cautiously proceeding with cooperative efforts with the Chinese, it sees China as a major threat, and that the United States welcomes this view as a means of counterbalancing China as its only near-term strategic competitor.

India's Major Foreign-Policy Themes

Upon achieving its independence, India set about becoming a world power with global influence, even though it fixed most of its attention on Pakistan. India also extended its hand to the African National Congress of South Africa-which had adopted the passive resistance advocated by Mohandas Gandhi-by providing training and assistance as Africans struggled to rid themselves of colonial oppressors. Unwilling to become a pawn of the United States and USSR, the world's two superpowers, during the Cold War, India cofounded the Non-Aligned Movement, remaining neutral until it became more expedient to side with the USSR.2 Additionally, India promoted total nuclear disarmament of all nuclear powers, all the while seeking nuclear-power status itself. It continued to condemn nuclear powers but saw nuclear weapons as its ticket to becoming a global force.3

Cold War and Post-Cold War Relationships

India and Pakistan have been fixated on each other's demise since the partition of India by the British. The legitimacy of each government seems to hinge on the illegitimacy of the other. On the one hand, the very existence of the Muslim state of Pakistan threatens India's idea of itself as a pluralistic society with a secular government that also represents the world's second-largest Muslim population. On the other hand, Pakistan was founded on the belief that the world needed a Muslim state that would provide Muslims equal status and rule them under Muslim law. Consequently, India's foreign policy remains focused on the Pakistani threat-seemingly, everything else is secondary even though India developed a two-front scenario in its national-security strategy after China's successful military action against it in 1962.4 India has always felt itself superior to Pakistan, an attitude reinforced by its sound defeat of that country in 1971. But following India's testing of a nuclear weapon in 1974, Pakistan began its own covert journey to achieve nuclear-power status. Indeed, when India conducted its next nuclear demonstration in 1998, Pakistan responded in kind with its own test. It was now apparent to the world that both India and Pakistan intended to direct their nuclear capabilities at each other. …

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