Thursday, October 25, 2012

Indo-China Power equation, factors and the future ahead

  1. Similarities: India & China
  2. Factor against India
    1. China’s GDP is higher
    2. Proxy aggression
    3. Pakistani Angle
    4. Control over Border Regions
    5. Cyber domain.
  3. Factors against China
    1. #1: Enemy of Enemy is our friend
    2. #2: China’s vulnerability in Indian Ocean
    3. #3: India’s Soft Power
    4. #4: Military technology
    5. #5: India’s economic position vs Chinese Saturation
  4. #6: Demographic dividend
  5. China as World’s Superpower
  6. What should India do to counter China?
  7. Conclusion

Similarities: India & China

  • In the 1950s, India and China were weak developing countries.
  • Today, China is the world’s second-largest economy and India is in the top ten.
  • Both have nuclear weapons + huge military.
But there are many factors, which put these two nations on unequal grounds:

Factor against India

China’s GDP is higher

Source: World Bank database and
  • In 1970, India had a higher GDP than China, But Today, China’s GDP is four times that of India’s, and the ratio is still increasing.
  • By almost any measure, China is more developed than India. Because In addition to its GDP, only a small percent of China’s people live in poverty,
  • China has made a far greater effort to educate  its citizens than India.
  • The access to electricity and the Internet are all higher in China.
  • Statistical projections suggest that China’s GDP, could equal that of the US by 2030.
  • While India just tried to be ahead of Pakistan in term of Defense technology, China has sought to counter the United States’ military power. That’s why China has made greater investments in military power, both conventional (Tanks and missiles) and unconventional (cyber attacks).
  • US is facing economic downturn and unemployment. Therefore Obama administration has reduced the defense expenditure.
  • Right now, China has unquestioned military superiority over India and if situation continues to be bad in USA’s economy then Chinese military will become even more advanced and high tech than USA’s.
  • Apart from these things, China is a permanent member of UN security council (UNSC) and thus enjoys the veto power.
  • China has a major voice in the international system, especially in economic and financial matters- compared to India
  • All of these make China a formidable antagonist for India, if the status quo is maintained.

Proxy aggression

  • China tilts towards Pakistan in its dispute with India over Kashmir. China has supported the rebel movements in India’s Northeast and red corridor.
  • China is assertive (and at times aggressive) about its claim on the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh.
  • Chinese military deployments across the disputed border are much, much greater than India’s.

Pakistani Angle

  • Pakistan is India’s permanent security headache.
  • Pakistan has long received Chinese support, ensuring that India’s attention is diverted away from China.
  • Pakistan is providing China with a friendly route to the Energy rich Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf.

Control over Border Regions

  • China has an ambitious forward policy towards controlling Tibet and Xinjiang.
  • While India prefers to maintain status quo for issues on Kashmir and North East.
  • China has done an impressive job promoting economic integration and infrastructure both in Tibet and Xinjiang
  • India has failed to bring economic prosperity, internal security and reasonable governance in Kashmir and North East.
  • In fact Delhi is struggling to provide, 50 years later, basic road connectivity to its frontier regions.

Cyber Warfare

  • In Information and Technology, India has a globally competitive industry and a deep pool of talent.
  • But it has not been used for notorious purposes like China does :hacking gmail accounts of Dalai Lama and foreign ambassadors, hacking and deleting websites of Tibetian activists etc.
  • Cyber warfare, communication blockade, internet censorship (in an event of war), Chinese capacity are better than ours.

Factors against China

#1: Enemy of Enemy is our friend

  • Chinese relations with the US have entered a difficult phase.
  • China is engaged in maritime territorial disputes with Japan [Recall the earlier article on Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, CLICK ME]
  • China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea have caused deep resentment in Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei and so on.
  • And with all these countries, we have good bilateral relations.
  • Therefore, the present international power play is arguably to India’s advantage.

#2: China’s vulnerability in Indian Ocean

  • China’s goods and oil cargos pass through Indian Ocean, over which over Navy has formidable presence. (Observe Straight of Malacca in above map).
  • Therefore, unless China is 100% sure of a full military and psychological victory over India, it would have no use for a military attack.
  • And hence the possibilities of a Chinese offensive in the high Himalayas are considered remote.
  • Besides, the increased Indo-China trade and economic relations are a deterrent to belligerence (Aggressiveness) because those who trade heavily do not usually trade blows.

#3: India’s Soft Power

  • India has a history of largely positive relations with Himalayan neighbours, the central Asian states and Russia (the two notable exceptions of China and Pakistan).
  • China, by contrast, has a history of border disputes and outright war with many of its continental neighbours, from Russia to Vietnam.
  • The growth nationalism in Japan, Korea, and Vietnam.  They’re becoming more assertive when dealing with China.
  • Therefore, China’s access to the Pacific and Indian Oceans, is blocked by a network of democracies from Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan to the Philippines, Indonesia, and Singapore.
  • India’s rise, by contrast, is not perceived as a threat by other east and southeast Asian states.

#4: Military technology

  • India has no offensive capacity (or doctrine) while China has ample ability to go on the offensive – as it showed in 1962.
  • But the Chinese also know that India’s defensive capacity along the border is more than adequate.
  • Precision strike weapons (guided missiles etc) cost US $500,000 a round in 1990. They cost $10,000 or less today.
  • It means the price of precision strike weapons has been coming down, and their reliability, range and damage-power has been increasing.
  • During war, Use of such Precision strike weapons favor countries with defensive strategies (India).

#5: India’s economic position

  • Economic growth is easier when you are catching up to richer countries.  Because there is a world of foreign technology and business practices for you to acquire and use to increase your productivity rapidly.
  • But After a few decades of catching up, you have taken advantage of most foreign know-how. At that point, economic growth would require you to invent your own technology.
  • This means slower growth in productivity
  • China is perhaps 25 years ahead of India in its economic development, which means that it is 25 years closer to hitting these limits.
  • So India’s potential rate of growth going forward is higher.
  • When we combine this with demography, it is possible for India’s GDP to overtake China in the near future.

#6: Demographic dividend

  • Within a few decades, the Chinese labour force will shrink (because of their one child policy) and thus China’s internal consumer demand = reduced..
  • supply of young Chinese people in rural areas who can move into manufacturing jobs = reduced
  • Thus China’s GDP will start declining.
  • But India faces no such demographic crunches.
  • If we pour more money in  vocational skill training, then we’ll have a young, productive and growing labour force = higher GDP in future.

Food for thought

  • It is said that in the coming years, China will replace US as the world super power. However last major power transition from Britain to the US (After World War II) helped India achieve independence.
  • So let’s consider for a moment, what will happen to India, If and when there is power transition from US to China

China as World’s Superpower

  • After the death of the Dalai Lama, China could pressure for India to shut down all Tibetan political activity in India and to force the Tibetan government-in-exile into further exile outside India.
  • Tibetan refugees in India would be asked to take Indian citizenship or to leave India.
  • Unlike the 1962 war, a future military clash may not be restricted to land warfare at the border — instead, we may see a more dispersed set of strikes with precision weapons that disable Indian capabilities as well as cyber attacks.
  • China would also be likely to bring to bear financial pressure on India, using economic warfare levers via high levels of investment and trade.
  • China could armtwist/buy the Politically and Financially weak regimes surrounding India (Bhutan, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Nepal)  and build permanent military bases there. Just like US did in Middle East and Central Asia.
  • Similarly, China could soon enjoy a permanent and relatively inexpensive naval presence in the Indian Ocean via naval bases in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Maldives etc.
  • And then, China might end up controlling Tawang, which Chinese officials currently refer to as part of “south Tibet” (along with the rest of Arunachal Pradesh)
  • If in future, another 26/11 terror attack happens in india, and India decides to launch military strike against Pakistan, then China would be in a position to pressure India into an unfavourable settlement or ceasefire.
  • China would then silence Indian free speech on internet and in international platforms (UN etc), via combination of diplomatic and economic pressure, and Chinese cyber Attacks.
  • Ultimately, it might result in a kind of “Finlandisation” of India, according to which Indian leaders would make regular pilgrimages (visits) to China to “co-ordinate” and seek approval of Chinese leaders, on all major international questions even at the cost of Indian national interests.
Well then Good grief, China is not the world power! But then the question is:

What should India do to counter China?

  • When we invest money in military or medical research or child education, it’d determine what capabilities we will have 20 years hence. But unfortunately the current political environment: policies are oriented more towards short term electoral benefits.
  • The foremost task for India is to maximise its potential national power by maximising its economic growth & demographic dividend, reducing poverty, enhancing social peace and securing international peace.
  • Adopt an anti-access, area denial strategy in Tibet, where China is dependent on a limited number of roads, rail lines and runways.
  • India should cooperate more actively with other Asian countries to make it harder for Chinese naval power to operate in the Indian Ocean.
  • India must fix its cyber vulnerabilities, Government websites and communication system — this is a problem more in need of attention than large sums of money (by the standards of military spending).
  • Compared with India’s, Chinese military hardware costs are lower because they typically involve domestic production. Therefore, India should increase the spending on Research and Development for Domestic production of military hardwares.
  • Chinese military strategic doctrine emphasises speed and surprise and thus Indian counter doctrine should emphasise paranoia and flexibility.
  • Tactically speaking a mountainous border is good terrain to Indian army to defend, but it still leaves room for strategic surprises — for instance, a Chinese attack through Bhutan.
  • Ideally, India’s military should constantly think through such novel scenarios and fine tune the deployment accordingly.


  • We must of course engage, economically and culturally with China to better our relationships.
  • But China’s geopolitical interests are fundamentally adversarial to India’s. China is a nation with definite views on the international order and border Issues, which will prevent it from becoming India’s most trusted ally.
  • The gap between Chinese and Indian power is much less than previous decades, but there is no room for complacency.
  • Moreover, the costs of adopting preventive measures are much lower than the costs of inviting Chinese aggression by failing to compete.
  • Therefore, it would be irresponsible for India not to take steps to ensure that China thinks twice before challenging the status quo in relationship.


  1. Various editorials on IndianExpress
  3. The India-China Rivalry by Robert D. Kaplan map republished with permission of Stratfor.”

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