Dr. Lora Saalman, a Beijing-based associate in the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, has focused her research on Chinese nuclear weapon and nonproliferation policies and Sino-Indian strategic relations. Her presentation at the IDSA focused on the convergence and divergence of Chinese and Indian security concerns in land-based, naval, aerospace and nuclear arenas, with findings derived from extensive textual research and interviews with the academic, scientific and military communities in both China and India.
The talk centered mainly on security concerns between India and China, derived from both quantitative and qualitative analysis based on perceptions of India within China, and vice versa, and how they have changed over the period from 1991 to 2009. Dr. Saalman found that over time, the trend line curved upwards on a quantitative scale, peaking in 2001 during President Bill Clinton's visit to India, and the lifting of the 1998 nuclear-test sanctions in 2001, and again in 2005, on the announcement of the US-India nuclear deal. Conclusively, there has been a definite increase in interest in India within China.
In analyzing and comparing content from Chinese and Indian security journals, there has been a strong interest in China within India, whereas in Chinese security journals, the focus has been mainly on two areas - naval concerns within China pertaining to India, and on the air force. These are also the two arenas in which some Chinese specialists feel India can be comparable or even surpass China in the future. Dr. Saalman's research separates out three distinct areas of research and analysts in both countries - the military strategists, the scientists, and the academics.
In terms of divergence, it was observed that military strategists in China and India tended to focus on two areas, namely the navy and the army. Separately, in China, there was much more focus on Indian naval developments, aircraft carriers, and nuclear submarines (that may give India second strike capabilities in the future), whereas in India, attention was centered on land-based systems on the borders. It was noted that on the Indian side, there has also been much focus on Chinese cooperation on missiles and weapons technology, mainly with Pakistan, while Chinese concerns revolve around the ability of Indian forces to gain military training and engage in military and maritime exercises.
In analyzing gathered data, Dr Saalman applied social psychology theory to attempt to supplement her analysis of Indian and Chinese perceptions of each other. The theories and ideas used included:
1. Social Identity - China is an army power from the Indian standpoint, while the Chinese view India as an ocean power (with Chinese threat perceptions being based on Indian Ocean control, and Indo-US joint exercises).
2. Overconfidence Phenomenon and Victim Mentality - China is seen as being on the overconfident side and India in the latter category, with respect to what it faced during the 1962 border conflict with China.
3. Hidden and Expressed Attitudes - China's conspicuous focus on the Indian navy is more of a hidden concern, and not expressed as much in public, while in India, many military and naval officers were found to be dismissive of ideas such as the String of Pearls concept, or future conflict. Also, secondhand bias plays a key role in the interaction between the two countries - research work on both sides has relied to a great extent on US analyses of developments between China and India.
4. Fundamental Attribution Error - Actors tend to externalize their motivations for events, while attributing others’ similar actions to innate causes. In applying this to the case at hand, on acquiring (for example) aircraft carriers or nuclear submarines, though both countries pursue this, each side would attribute the others' action to arrogance and the drive to be a regional hegemon.
5. Relative Deprivation - Both countries’ dependence (up until sanctions on India were lifted) on Russian and Israeli imports resulted in indigenization and reverse engineering.
6. Realistic Group Conflict theory – This applies well to the Indian Ocean situation; with limited resources, the chances for future conflict grow.
In linking these perceptions to practice, Dr Saalman proposed recommendations that recognize there is less asymmetry at sea than at the border, particularly given the challenges of distance, shipping and the U.S. role that China faces. As such, stronger cooperation between the two countries in the naval realm may be possible. She suggested this could take many forms, including establishing a regularized forum for security cooperation, energy shipments, and tsunami relief, or greater engagement in a sea-based version of “Hand-in-Hand” military exercises to confront mutual concerns on piracy.
Similarities between the two countries converge on the areas of aviation and aerospace. Some Chinese technical journals for instance were found to contain miscellaneous references to developments in Indian systems. Dr Saalman also pointed out the use of slogans by China, such as "Great Power Dream" when referring to India - the idea that India in making pursuits towards the future in terms of military modernization is aiming towards becoming a great power.
In terms of perception, China has in the past evaluated India's actions at the border from a very instrumental view. But increasingly, India's role at the border is being seen as tending towards heightened militarization, drawing hostile rhetoric from China on what India's future intentions are. Dr Saalman also emphasized that though it is not admitted, both sides have regularly engaged in behaviour that has escalatory potential. But it is important to note that, on the technical side there has been cooperation between China and India, as seen in 2002 and 2006 in the space arena.
However, most of this cooperation has been in the form of MOUs, and have lacked any concrete measures. She noted that there are many other areas of potential cooperation between the two countries. Keeping in mind the sensitivities in this relationship, Dr Saalman recommended joint studies and discussions on air power, space power, space policy dialogue, space navigation, and non-interference rules for satellites, some of which occur between the United States and China on a regular basis.
On the role of academic analysts in both countries, Dr Saalman's study inferred that both sides predominantly focus on nuclear issues. There is most symmetry in the overarching attention paid to nuclear issues in the two academic communities. On the Chinese side, the US-India strategic relationship is given recurring attention. On the Indian side, the issue of nuclear status stood out - the idea that China had conferred upon it early on that it is a nuclear power, a status that had been denied to India, tying into the concept of relative deprivation mentioned earlier.
Dr Saalman also stressed the importance of interaction on definitions of technical terms relating especially to nuclear arsenals, nuclear energy or nuclear security. She recommended the possibility of adoption of a joint glossary by China and India, much like the one established for use by Chinese and US scientists and experts. In drawing an analogy with the US-Soviet relationship, she pointed out that the most engagement between the two countries took place at times of increasing hostilities. Peaking tensions are fertile ground for confidence building and arms control measures to be adopted.
The speaker hoped that the takeaway from the talk was that "perceptions can often trump reality". The Chinese side has for too long being dismissive of Indian threat assessments, whereas India has had a tendency to be too dismissive of China's legitimate interests. Also, there is an academic, science and military imbalance. In engaging with each other, there tends to be a schism caused by the varied backgrounds that participants in dialogue come from, with the Indian side usually consisting of more people from military backgrounds, while the Chinese side is composed mainly of academics. The recommendation here is to initiate more military to military, scientists to scientists, and academic to academic meetings, to facilitate better understanding.
With respect to dialogue on the Track 1, Track 1.5 and Track 2 levels, Dr Saalman pointed out that although there is a significant amount of Track 1 negotiations between China and India, in agreement with general perception, the bilateral relationship can gain much more from engagements on the Track 1.5 and Track 2 levels as well (possibly in the form of multilevel, multilateral forums and negotiation simulations, as has been done with the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific (CSCAP)). This can contribute largely to reducing second hand bias, and more importantly, initiate practice and engagement between China and India.
Mr. Sisodia concluded Dr. Saalman’s extremely insightful presentation by observing that the study is an apt example of academic research being able to deliver policy implications as well – an encouraging reminder to the IDSA research community. He noted that there is significant practical value in this study in terms of managing India’s relationship with China, and potential future discussions could also touch upon the impact of the strengthening Indo-US partnership on Indo-Chinese relations.
Report prepared by Princy Marin George, Research Assistant, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi