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Understanding Chinese Perceptions of India

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  • July 31, 2009
    Fellows' Seminar
    Only by Invitation
    1030 to 1300 hrs

    Chair: Rajiv Sikri
    Discussants: Srikanth Kondapalli and Rajeswari Rajagopalan

    The objective of this is paper is to understand the China’s strategic perception of India. To do so the author Manjeet S Pardesi divides the paper in two broad sections. In first he analyses the validity of the arguments of two prominent scholars who are of the view that there exists an asymmetry of mutual perceptions between India and China. The author then identifies problems in their arguments. In the second section he goes on to show that the Sino-Indian rivalry is not quite one sided and asymmetrical as often claimed and believed to be. It is asymmetric only to the extent that India regards China as its “principal rival”, and China regards India as its “strategic rival”. The author then puts forward four prominent themes which, according to him, shape China’s perception of India. He concludes by arguing that, contrary to popular belief, India has always been on the strategic radar of China and that its recent economic rise has only accentuated Chinese security concerns vis-à-vis India.

    The first section begins with Susan Shirk’s argument. According to Shirk the focus of Chinese strategic and military planning continues to be East Asia- in Taiwan Straits and in South China Sea rather than India. The Chinese don’t see India as any kind of strategic threat. The author points out three problems with Shirk’s one sided rivalry theory.

    First Shirk does not define what she means by the concept of rivalry. Consequently, she conflates the notions of “strategic rivalry” and “principal rivalry”.

    Second, she does not give adequate consideration to the assessment of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), including that of China’s military analysts and their perceptions of India. Thirdly, she does not attempt to adequately understand the nature of the Sino-Pakistani “entente cordiale” and the reasons behind China’s proliferation of strategic technologies to Pakistan. Based on these three points, the author argues that China is far more concerned about its security vis-à-vis India than argued by Shirk

    John W. Garver is the second scholar whose arguments are examined by the author in the paper. According to Garver China appears dismissive of any security challenge from India even as India perceives a serious threat from its northern neighbor. He supports his analysis based on two forms of evidence. Firstly he shows that China’s public Media and journals have systematically downplayed Indian threats to China’s security while opposite is the case with Indian Journals. And Secondly, he argues that the status quo – defined as the outcome of China’s invasion of Tibet, the outcome of the 1962 Sino-Indian border war, and the Sino-Pakistani entente – all favor China. Consequently, China does not perceive a serious security threat from India. These arguments, according to Garver, point towards the existence of asymmetrical threat perception between India and China.

    The author is of the view that Garver’s analysis of Sino-Indian mutual perceptions by demonstrating “asymmetrical coverage” in foreign policy journals is inadequate to prove the existence of an asymmetry of threat perception between the two.

    After demonstrating that there exist flaws in the arguments which point towards the existence of an asymmetrical relationship between the two countries, the author comes out with his own findings. The author is of the view that today China’s emerging perception of India is guided and influenced by four prominent themes. They are namely strategic implications of India’s economic growth, Indo–U.S and Indo–Japanese strategic partnerships, India’s Look East strategy and India’s growing military power. In sum it is the author emphasizes that recent Chinese analyses of the rise of India’s growing economic strength, military capabilities, and diplomatic relationships has fundamentally led to a new image of India in China. While India was perceived in the context of the status of Tibet, Sino-Indian border issues, and the security situation in the subcontinent in the past, recent analyses of India regard it as a growing strategic player in Asia and beyond. This does not mean that the older issues have become unimportant. Instead, it means that the Chinese have begun to seriously acknowledge India’s growing strategic profile and its impact on the security architecture of Asia.

    Points Raised During Discussion

    • While evaluating the Chinese perceptions of India, the roles of the institutional actors in the Chinese establishment are very important. The significant institutions in this regard are the Politbureau Standing Committee, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the People’s Liberation Army and the Shanghai Chamber of Commerce.
    • In China apart from the Realist and Neo-Realist School of thought on Sino-Indian relations, there is also a growth of Constructivist School of thought which looks at Sino-Indian relations from a “Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai” perspective.
    • The author is advised to look into the arguments of more scholars before drawing a conclusion. Consulting one or two samples might lead to a wrong or one sided conclusion.
    • The author needs to incorporate more official Chinese views to substantiate his arguments. Moreover, sources like the PLA Daily and Chinese language articles on the same topic should also be included in the paper to make the findings more authentic.
    • While the author promises to bring out the Chinese perceptions of India based on a “Socio-Psychological process”, the arguments used are realist and neo-realist in nature.
    • The author should include more Indian authors and their perceptions of China rather than giving emphasis to American authors.
    • India’s stand on Tibet needs to be elaborated in the paper as it would be difficult to understand the Chinese perceptions of India without understanding it.
    • The author has devoted almost half of his paper to refute the arguments of two scholars. Instead, he should focus more on the main theme of the paper.

    Prepared by Sandeep Anand, Research Assistant at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.