top of page

China: Latest Assessments of Strategic Experts on Sino-Indian Ties

As appeared in

Internal Chinese views on India are different from what they say to international media. There appears to be two views one for internal consumption and another benign one for external consumption. We should not come to the conclusion that there are differences internally between strategic analysts and the policy makers in China. It is deliberately done to ‘unsettle’ Indian positions on China. Director

Almost coinciding with the visit of President Hu Jintao to India (November 20-23, 2006), strategic experts in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) belonging to Party and State-controlled think tanks, have made certain key observations on Sino-Indian relations in general and the border issue in particular. Inputs from specialists had always been a component in shaping of the foreign policy in the PRC and what has been said now therefore assumes significance.

An analysis done by Beijing-based China International Institute for Strategic Studies (CIISS)[1] (in Chinese language, November 21, 2006), on the subject of ‘future directions of the Sino-Indian border dispute’, judged that “conditions are not ripe for a peaceful and satisfactory solution” to the dispute.

In support of the judgement, following ‘existing realistic factors’ are quoted in the analysis – (1) the prevailing gulf between the stand points of the two sides, especially due to pressures arising from nationalistic sentiments in each country, (2) the realisation by China that the Sino-Indian border issue is linked with the question of its national sovereignty and territorial integrity and hence, it should not adopt any hasty step or make big compromises on principles, (3) PRC’s priority to finding a solution to “Taiwan’ crisis in comparison to the Sino-Indian border dispute, particularly when China enjoys a strategic superiority concerning Taiwan conflict; its resultant desire not to allow the Sino-Indian border issue to affect efforts towards solving the Taiwan tangle, even though Beijing is aware that the “Chinese territory under India’s forcible occupation” is rich in resources and bigger in area by more than two times than that of Taiwan; as such, it is possible for China to follow a strategy aiming to find a solution to the Taiwan crisis first and then work out an agreement with India on the border issue, (4) realisation by India that its goal now is economic development and increasing power and that giving urgency to border issue will not be in its basic interest, specifically when it already has a de facto control over “China’s Tawang region” and (5)the desire of both the sides to wait for an opportunity in future for a boundary solution , based on their perceptions that the issue, if approached in hurry, could impact on respective rises of the two nations. Also, as two nuclear powers, China and India have a responsibility to deal with the issue carefully.

Another CIISS Commentary[2] (Chinese language, November 24, 2006), while positively viewing the significance of Hu Jintao’s visit to India, pointed out that “there is considerable degree of suspicion among India’s bureaucracy on China’s rise and the Indian ruling groups are putting obstacles in the way of finding a rational solution to the border issue, adopting a British colonial era mindset”. Accusing India of having taken resistance to China’s rise as long term strategic aim, it added that New Delhi is consequently expanding its military strength, especially showing an inherent tendency to dominate the Indian Ocean.

Recognising that the rise of India and China has contributed to a new phase in Asian geopolitics, the Commentary focussed on the current progress in Sino-Russian ties and nature of US-Japan alliance, the latter with China as a potential target. “There is no clash of basic interests between India on one hand and the four – the US, China, Japan and Russia on the other, but New Delhi considers relation with the US as its primary goal”, it further observed, while at the same time advising India that as an Asian power, it should not follow a pro-US policy. It concluded by saying that Hu Jintao’s visit would result in further improvement in Sino- Indian relations, but there should be a concrete and fundamental change in bilateral ties, with out which both the sides “will have to walk a long way before achieving once again of the friendly atmosphere in 50s, characterised by the ‘Hindi-Chini bhai bhai’ sentiment”.

Other notable comments from the CIISS experts included, (1) India’s plan to complete construction of a 900 kilometre railway link connecting the country’s interior areas with Srinagar in the “Indian-controlled Kashmir” by 2009, is in response to the perceived strategic threat coming from China’s Qinghai-Tibet railway,[3] (2) Compared to 1962, the Indian military’s strength has grown; it is one of the best in the world. Indian Navy is modernised with aircraft carriers. Any advance in India’s course of “militarism” in the form of attacking China, will be extremely damaging to the PRC. In recent years, India has been able to work out a system to fight on two fronts, showing capacity to attack Pakistan and China simultaneously. If India attacks Myanmar, the latter will collapse, threatening Yunnan province of China. Strategic scenario putting China into a tight position can be – Indian troops attack Lhasa through Southern Tibet, enter Xinjiang through Kashmir, launch naval attack in the Pearl River mouth and invade China’s southwest through Myanmar[4].

China’s experts are also of the view that the remarks of the PRC Ambassador Sun Yuxi in New Delhi on the ‘so called Arunachal Pradesh’ are a ‘Chinese strategic counter attack’ with respect to the border negotiations. First, through measures like construction of Qinghai-Tibet railway, the PRC should economically harmonise Tibet, Nepal and border areas with India into China’s economic sphere, then only talk with India on border; with economic prosperity contributing to a better political climate, India may be in a position to soften its position on the boundary. The question will be how far is China from recovering Southern Tibet?[5] The experts further argued that China’s successive governments have never recognised Arunachal Pradesh State and asserted that this part, lying between China’s south- west and India’s north- east regions, is called by the PRC as “ Southern Tibet”, to be brought under the administrative control of Tibet Autonomous Region of the PRC. They opined that the part is important for China’s strategic deployment, as it is close to the lifelines like Sichuan- Tibet Highway.[6]


The official statements made by the visiting leader Hu Jintao in India on several key aspects, stand in contrast to what has been observed by China’s strategic experts. “India – China relationship is of global significance in bilateral, regional and international dimensions and both the nations shared broad and sustained interests. To enter into strategic partnership with India is not expedient, but is a strategic decision and firm goal of the Chinese government”, said Hu (New Delhi, November 21 &22,2006). Strategic experts in Beijing are not however so optimistic. They have found that India is having resistance to China’s rise as its long-term aim, which raises questions for the ‘strategic partnership’ now said to be in force between the two nations. Similarly, Hu’s remarks that his country and India “share broad common interests in advancing multipolarity in the world”, needs to be juxtaposed to the views of the Chinese strategic analysts that India’s primary goal is friendship with the US.

On the question of when a final solution to the boundary issue could be found, both Hu Jintao and Chinese strategists seem to have different viewpoints. Hu, along with the Indian leader Dr. Manmohan Singh, has called for an ‘early’ settlement of the boundary issue which is a strategic goal for both nations and desired ‘speeding up’ of their efforts by the Special Representatives of both the sides. According to the strategists on the other hand, a solution could be prolonged as no mutual political and security trust exists between the two nations (Prof .Fu Xiaoqiang with the PRC Ministry of State Security-affiliated China Institute for Contemporary International Relations). Other views like China could attend to solving the Taiwan crisis first and then work for border solution as well as economic harmonisation of Tibet, Nepal and the border region with India could precede a boundary settlement, reveal the expectations of strategists about a long course of border negotiations.

Also on the subject of “mutual compromise” with respect to border issue, the Chinese official stand appears different from that of strategists. While the PRC Ambassador Sun Yuxi in India has talked about such a compromise and one of his predecessors Ambassador Cheng Ruisheng wanted ‘meaningful adjustments’, the experts have now categorically come out with their opposition to any ‘big compromise by China on principles’.

The Chinese media is now increasingly using the term “Southern Tibet” as their substitute to the name of Arunachal Pradesh given by India. This has no precedence and would seem to have definite implications in future for the Arunachal issue; the analysts are even speaking now in terms of China’s recovery of “Southern Tibet”, i.e Arunachal Pradesh. Also, some PRC analysts while examining their country’s threat perceptions have visualised a future Indian military attack on the PRC. Why such an alarmist view when both nations are on a course of ‘strategic partnership’, is a moot question.

The apparent divergences in China between official opinions and the viewpoints of strategists should not confuse any body. Beijing per force needs to show a benign face to the outside world particularly at times of high-level exchanges of visits. For obvious reasons, strategic thoughts do not find a place on such occasions. On the other hand, strategic experts in the PRC are given certain space by the authorities, to make critical evaluations reflecting long-term interests of the country, which ultimately influence policymaking. Here in lies the importance of the latest assessments.

(The writer is former Director, Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India. Email:

[1] China International Institute for Strategic Studies is based in Beijing. Its website, was established in October 2002, with the stated aim of contributing to research on the PRC’s international strategy. The head of the site is “Zhongguo Zhan Lue or China Strategy”, apparently a pseudonym for a high level cadre. The site’s “ Experts Group” has one Li Peng as member. Further check is necessary on whether this person is the former Chinese Premier Li Peng.


(Reference footnotes 3 to 6. These are articles to the bulletin board of the site,contributed by individuals. The site claims no responsibility for their contents, but the view points could not have been expressed without clearance by the authorities and hence their significance).

1 view0 comments


bottom of page