China and India and the transition of regional power

Author: Peter Drysdale, ANU Through 2005 to 2007, diplomatic flirtation with the idea that a new quadrilateral alliance in Asia and the Pacific centred on India’s anchor role, with the United States , Japan and Australia, in a soft, ‘values-based’ containment initiative (Quad Initiative) directed at its strategic encirclement of China blossomed briefly and faded from public view. As Sourabh Gupta reminds us in his thoughtful essay reviewing the state of the China-India relationship this week, in the northern summer of 2007, joint naval exercises conducted ostentatiously in the Bay of Bengal by the four Quad powers plus Singapore, allegedly under NATO operational procedures and with facilitated access (for India) to the American military satellite system, added to irritation in the relationship between Asia’s two great emerging powers. Beijing’s frustration with developments at the time derived more from Washington’s willingness to bend international non-proliferation norms and reinstate India as a country in good standing in the international nuclear regime, Gupta suggests. That the US-India civil nuclear agreement materialised barely a couple of weeks after Premier Wen’s departure from New Delhi in 2005 added to the feeling that China had been caught diplomatically flat-footed as well as betrayed by India’s transactional approach to US ties. Beijing chose to respond, significantly, by putting pressure on questions over territory to signal its disaffection.  In a pattern, Gupta notes, that has seen China calibrate its stance on outstanding territorial issues to the tenor of its overall bilateral relationship and perceptions of friendliness or hostility — it was swift to pursue its claims inflexibly on the ground and at the negotiating table. The next few years saw retreat from the Quad idea. Abe lost power in Japan. The new Hatoyama government in Japan sought a different course with China. The Obama administration in Washington and the Rudd government in Australia were inclined to a more nuanced approach to how India might counter-balance the growing power of China and its particular characteristics. But underneath the surface, the Quad idea was not dead — in hibernation perhaps, but not dead. In pol-mil circles, it offered the promise of continuity for the established order of regional power, a comfortable reassuring retreat to an augmented familiar security framework. It also offered, however thinly, the moral fig leaf that rationalised a strategy of Chinese containment, whatever that might mean. Come the troubles with China of 2010, mutations of Quad-type thinking came out of the closet once more, not in public diplomacy but privately, pushing the idea at the margins of circles of influence in India and in the putative Quad constituency . It remains, active, purposeful, but below the radar. But India, and China, not unexpectedly, have moved on. To those in Washington, Tokyo or Canberra, who incline to the Quad strategy, not as a contingency but as some kind of in-your-face alternative to Chinese engagement, politically and militarily, as well as economically, it is well to reflect upon the independent evolution and challenges of India’s relationship with China. These are two powers, with common borders, each their own vulnerabilities, inexorably growing economic complementary, shared interests and objectives in global governance and the need to deal with each other’s growing power in its own Asian space. Engaging with China bilaterally is an imperative for India, not an option. The challenge for New Delhi is – and it has always been – to factor calculation of national self-interest (and security) into dealings with China without foreclosing the potential of a resurgent Asia with China and India at its core. Third-country strategic partners are a useful adjunct in this process … but an adjunct at best, and relegated in most part to narrow aspects of the security realm. India’s self-image as an aspiring great power and a peer of China demand that the burden (and instruments) for managing and engaging China will rest primarily on its own capabilities. And it will have to discharge this self-imposed obligation in its own time frame, not at the whim of others. Gupta’s careful analysis of China-India affairs reminds us once again, should we need reminding, that as India and China face these realities, whatever the baggage in the history of their relationship, India can afford to be nobody’s pawn in dealing with China or rely on the dream of appeal to distant American power to solve its problems with its neighbour. And China will have every reason to treat India with increasing care and appropriate respect . No related posts.

Through 2005 to 2007, diplomatic flirtation with the idea that a new quadrilateral alliance in Asia and the Pacific centred on India’s anchor role, with the United States, Japan and Australia, in a soft, ‘values-based’ containment initiative (Quad Initiative) directed at its strategic encirclement of China blossomed briefly and faded from public view.

As Sourabh Gupta reminds us in his thoughtful essay reviewing the state of the China-India relationship this week, in the northern summer of 2007, joint naval exercises conducted ostentatiously in the Bay of Bengal by the four Quad powers plus Singapore, allegedly under NATO operational procedures and with facilitated access (for India) to the American military satellite system, added to irritation in the relationship between Asia’s two great emerging powers.

Beijing’s frustration with developments at the time derived more from Washington’s willingness to bend international non-proliferation norms and reinstate India as a country in good standing in the international nuclear regime, Gupta suggests. That the US-India civil nuclear agreement materialised barely a couple of weeks after Premier Wen’s departure from New Delhi in 2005 added to the feeling that China had been caught diplomatically flat-footed as well as betrayed by India’s transactional approach to US ties. Beijing chose to respond, significantly, by putting pressure on questions over territory to signal its disaffection.  In a pattern, Gupta notes, that has seen China calibrate its stance on outstanding territorial issues to the tenor of its overall bilateral relationship and perceptions of friendliness or hostility — it was swift to pursue its claims inflexibly on the ground and at the negotiating table.

The next few years saw retreat from the Quad idea. Abe lost power in Japan. The new Hatoyama government in Japan sought a different course with China. The Obama administration in Washington and the Rudd government in Australia were inclined to a more nuanced approach to how India might counter-balance the growing power of China and its particular characteristics. But underneath the surface, the Quad idea was not dead — in hibernation perhaps, but not dead. In pol-mil circles, it offered the promise of continuity for the established order of regional power, a comfortable reassuring retreat to an augmented familiar security framework. It also offered, however thinly, the moral fig leaf that rationalised a strategy of Chinese containment, whatever that might mean. Come the troubles with China of 2010, mutations of Quad-type thinking came out of the closet once more, not in public diplomacy but privately, pushing the idea at the margins of circles of influence in India and in the putative Quad constituency. It remains, active, purposeful, but below the radar. But India, and China, not unexpectedly, have moved on.

To those in Washington, Tokyo or Canberra, who incline to the Quad strategy, not as a contingency but as some kind of in-your-face alternative to Chinese engagement, politically and militarily, as well as economically, it is well to reflect upon the independent evolution and challenges of India’s relationship with China. These are two powers, with common borders, each their own vulnerabilities, inexorably growing economic complementary, shared interests and objectives in global governance and the need to deal with each other’s growing power in its own Asian space. Engaging with China bilaterally is an imperative for India, not an option. The challenge for New Delhi is – and it has always been – to factor calculation of national self-interest (and security) into dealings with China without foreclosing the potential of a resurgent Asia with China and India at its core. Third-country strategic partners are a useful adjunct in this process … but an adjunct at best, and relegated in most part to narrow aspects of the security realm. India’s self-image as an aspiring great power and a peer of China demand that the burden (and instruments) for managing and engaging China will rest primarily on its own capabilities. And it will have to discharge this self-imposed obligation in its own time frame, not at the whim of others.

Gupta’s careful analysis of China-India affairs reminds us once again, should we need reminding, that as India and China face these realities, whatever the baggage in the history of their relationship, India can afford to be nobody’s pawn in dealing with China or rely on the dream of appeal to distant American power to solve its problems with its neighbour. And China will have every reason to treat India with increasing care and appropriate respect.

Author: Peter Drysdale, ANU

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China and India and the transition of regional power