Managing the relationship with China is India’s primary strategic challenge. Historically, the relationship between the modern India and China has been characterised by strands of cooperation, competition, and even conflict. However, China’s rapid economic growth and enhancement of political, diplomatic, military and technological capabilities post the early 1980s have added new dimensions to the relationship. Structurally, there now exists a deep power asymmetry between the two countries. This coupled with President Xi Jinping’s increasingly assertive foreign policy and shifts in the United States’ global role necessitates a fundamental rethinking of the Sino-Indian relationship. Today, while old sources of friction between India and China persist, there are also new challenges and opportunities. Competition between the two countries is increasingly likely to be a product of historical distrust, expanding and overlapping interests, and divergences over fundamental values. On the other hand, cooperation is likely to be transactional, driven by pragmatic self-interest.
Recent tensions along the disputed boundary in Eastern Ladakh are emblematic of China’s expansionist goals, which have simmered under the surface for quite a few years now. The standoff between India and China at Doklam in 2017 could be seen as an early omen of this resurgence in Chinese belligerence, which in addition to disagreeing with the current borders between the two countries, attempts to actively redraw them by force.
We thus believe that India’s defence and strategic objectives should focus on ensuring that the relationship with China remains stable while India pursues the expansion of its own comprehensive national power. This entails: