"REPORT: CLOSED DOOR ROUND TABLE DISCUSSION : INDIA – CHINA - US DYNAMICS "
12 Jul 2013
1. The National Maritime Foundation recently held a closed door round
table discussion on the complex relationship between India, US and
2. The discussion was primarily based on the personal experiences of a
few recent visitors to China. They provided insights into current
Chinese orientation and related diplomatic ventures. In the process,
they underscored some familiar facts and also brought out some new and
unknown characteristics. The essence of all discussion was the
reaffirmation that in the modern world, India and China cannot be
ignored and that the US cannot be wished away. The major takeaways from
the discussions are as below.
3. Rise of China. The rise of China is one of the most
significant developments of the recent past and it has had a profound
impact on the world. While China has always professed that its rise is
peaceful, the experience of different nations interacting with China has
made them as well as others wary of the manner in which this rise is
taking place. There is opacity in the Chinese military spending with a
visible lack of clarity about their intentions. China’s rise could have
been considered peaceful only if their intentions and effect on the
world were reasonably transparent. Growing nationalism, self-belief in
its own profile and growth in military forces are collectively elevating
China to hegemonic status and assertiveness as evidenced in the South
China Sea and the Depsang incidents. Hence, China’s rise cannot be
considered peaceful. However, the speakers also noted that even as the
rise of China evoked deep concerns, it simultaneously offered some
possibilities and opportunities to both India and the US.
4. Free opinion in China does not exist. This premise was
reinforced in an informal conversation that one of the speakers had with
a serving editor of a reputed Chinese daily in Shanghai. The Editor
brought out that the Chinese government actually issues a weekly list of
news items that could be reported and no deviations were tolerated.
Press guidelines were clearly laid out and strictly enforced, with
suppression of negative news being the most common feature. This was
also demonstrated by the total blackout on Chinese new sites about the
Xinjiang riots on 27 Jun 13 wherein 35 Uighur Muslims died. The incident
was subsequently labeled as a terrorist attack by the Chinese
government. Think tanks are also not allowed freedom of thought and all
think tanks have party personnel in critical positions. The Chinese
government actively stifles innovation, curbs ingenuity and does not
allow debate or questioning. However, CHAHAR was the odd one out amongst
the Chinese think tanks and was trying to maintain a track independent
of government control. This intolerance for free opinion in China was in
evidence yet again recently when Dr Shen Ding Li was demoted for
opposing the government viewpoints. A known critic of the Chinese
government, Dr Shen Ding Li is widely respected in the US for his frank
5. Disillusionment and dissent prevalent in Chinese youth. Higher
education in China is still the privilege of the upper middle class
youth and the chosen few. This group appears to be getting increasingly
dissatisfied and disgruntled with the lies and propaganda being handed
out by the Chinese government to them. They are aware of the factual
positions, but prefer to keep quiet so as not to forego their own
privileges. They instead see the US as an escape route and the preferred
career plan for many of them is to go to the US for studies and not to
return. However, this modus operandi could also be a clever feint for
the select few who are sent by the Chinese government to learn western
norms, skills and attitudes. This learning could then be exploited at a
later stage by China in various fora on their return. Further, in spite
of internet policing by the government, Chinese youth brazenly flout
government controls by purchasing apps from the black market to enjoy
unhindered access to the internet and western sites. The speakers also
assessed that the attitude of the Chinese towards their own country
appeared to be changing and that the urban middle class was emerging as a
6. China’s perception of India. It was opined that, at present,
China was not as obsessed with India as India was with China and that
South Asia was only a secondary security consideration for Beijing. The
speakers independently assessed that China was almost dismissive of
India and was seeking to engage only with the US as an equal and with
Asian and African client states as a provider of stability, markets and
infrastructure. If the US is perceived as the biggest competitor to
China, India is not even a competitor. In the Chinese view, Pakistan is
considered useful as an irritant to constrain India. At present, China
was more concerned with East Asia, especially Japan, US and Vietnam.
These leanings can also be seen in Chinese think tank writings which
concentrate more on Japan and the US. The Chinese perceive India to be a
complicated democracy with an unclear economic growth agenda. They also
believe that the Indian political system cannot come together in times
of crises. However, there has been a perceptible positive change apropos
India in the Chinese thought process since late 2012 with Japan getting
a more visible negative tilt.
7. It was also averred that the new found bonhomie towards India has its
genesis in China’s animosity towards Japan. China probably does not
want to antagonize two powerful interlocutors at the same time. The
steady economic and military rise of India is also considered a reason
for the tentative amity. China foresees good investmentclimate in India
and this perhaps explains a marginally more positive coverage of India
by the Chinese press. There is a growing, but grudging, admiration for
the Indian Armed Forces and a full scale war between the two countries
is seen as unlikely. Skirmishes on the other hand, cannot be ruled out.
The reach of nuclear weapons is another contributory factor towards this
conclusion. While growing Chinese nationalism may not allow territorial
and boundary resolution any time soon, support for a solution along the
LAC definition seems to be growing.
8. Even though Chinese think tanks and scholars are talking of an
India-US-China triad, they feel that India is boxing above its weight
and is the weakest of the three nations. In the Chinese perception, it
is a bi-polar dyad at the global level and no other power is strong
enough in Asia to make the continent multi-polar. In their mind, a
US-China axis is enough to manage Asia. They, however, appreciate
India’s hedging skills in the triad and feel that India is in an
enviable position with both world powers (US and China) wooing Delhi.
But at the same time, Chinese support for India’s UNSC seat did not seem
to be on its way in the near term. The belief prevalent in China is
that India should avoid leaning towards the US as strategic autonomy is
the stated bedrock of Indian thought and identity.
9. Variables doing the rounds in China.> The various issues being debated in China at present are as below:
(a) Would US presence in Asia increase and would the US play a more active role in Asia?
(b) The US pivot or rebalance to Asia is considered bothersome and there is a
fear that India would be enticed in to contain China.
(c) Japan is still looked upon with hatred and the fear of Prime
Minister Shinzo Abe taking on China is palpable. There is a perceptible
acknowledgement that Japanese technology is ahead of China by decades.
(d) There is an inherent apprehension that North Korea might do
something impulsive to provoke Japan and upset the regional apple cart.
10. China in the Indian Ocean and in the South China Sea ( SCS).
China views the Indian Ocean as an important strategic arena and does
not believe that the US would leave Japan and South East Asian countries
bereft of her support. This would hold true especially for the South
China Sea imbroglio as the US provides the affected countries a credible
military crutch and leverage. The Chinese are also wary of the IAF
station at Thanjavur where SU30s have been based, giving an increased
ROA in the Indian Ocean. With the recent Indian acquisition of the P-8I
aircraft, the Indian Navy’s surveillance capability has grown manifold.
The SU30 - P8I combination is a cause of concern for China as it extends
the operational reach of IAF to the Chinese Gulf oil routes and brings
their Malaccan dilemma to the forefront. The importance of the Indian
Ocean to China is also being actively discussed in Chinese strategic
think tanks and colleges.