India’s Grand Strategy (Sino-India strategy) – Part 4

By Nitin Bajaj


“China’s intentions are not clear and we have to consider the possibility of a negative change in the Chinese posture. Its posture could change in the event of a political upheaval in that country or if the power asymmetry increases dramatically.”

                            -Grand Strategy for India, 2020 and Beyond

The lack of trust between India and China goes way back.  During the 1950s, India had remarkable relations with China and the maxim-“Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai,” meaning Indians and Chinese are brothers, was extremely common. K.M. Pannikar, the Indian ambassador to China in 1950s, had a very congenial relationship with Mao Zedong.  But China’s annexation of Tibet in 1951, which happened without any advanced knowledge of India, was a severe betrayal of India’s trust. The Sino-Indian relationships could never be restored and were further marked in dark colours after the 1962 Sino-Indian war that came a few years after India allowed Dalai Lama to cross the border from Tibet and take refuge in India. A deeper inquiry into the Indo-Chinese mistrust points to the differing ideologies of the leaders of the two countries at the very beginning. After the 1949 win of Communists in China, Jawaharlal Nehru embracing the act had called it the victory of nationalism. Whereas, other important Indian leaders were often wary of China’s political establishments and the Indian Home Minister Vallabhai Patel had said in 1950 that- “Communism in China has an extreme expression of nationalism, rather than its nullification.” Also the Chinese leaders never liked Nehru and often regarded him as a bourgeois nationalist. In fact, Shijie Zhishi, speaking in the September of 1949 said that-“Nehru is the running dog of imperialism.”

Today, China has established itself as a formidable world power and India is on its way to becoming the next big global power. The 21st century would see significant new changes in the world order with the rise of China and India. But would the two countries be able to grow peacefully, side-by-side? This is one important question, whose answer depends upon how the two countries mange their long-standing disagreements.

China is an extremely significant threat to the Indian national security. India and China have had long-standing disagreements on the border issues. China’s recent military expansion led by two decades of stunning economic growth and its long-standing relationship with Pakistan present a threat to India’s rise. There are a large number of issues between the two countries, which if not managed with prudence, could lead to conflict and more importantly, confrontation (Grand Strategy for India, 2020 and Beyond).

The Tibet Question

“Everyone always says China is trying to Sinicise us, but in fact, we are ourselves being Indianised.”

                      Lobsang Yeshi, Vice-President of the Tibetan Youth Congress


The North Indian state of Himachal Pradesh is the place where Dalai Lama lives and where Prime Minister Lobsang Sangay runs his Tibetan government in exile. China claims Tibet to be an integral part of China whereas the Tibetans never identify with the Chinese populace, be it language or culture. Even today, Tibet remains the most crucial threat to the Indo-Chinese relations.

The Tibetan refugees living in McLeod Gunj and elsewhere in India have never been a concern but the Chinese angle is rather disturbing for India’s national security. The Chinese have always made their stance clear about their claim of Tibet and the Tibetans have long revolted against China’s claims of their territory. Tibet seeks autonomy for its people and the Tibetans have fought very hard for it since the 1950s. Although India always maintained that Tibet is an autonomous part of China but it never relinquished the will to provide freedom and security to the Tibetan people and Dalai Lama. India’s stance on the Tibet issue has been rather opaque.

“Tibet’s day of reckoning is not far. The desire to be free, to breathe the air of freedom and free will lives on.”

                           -Lobsang Sangya, (Tibetan Prime Minister in Exile) on Dec 3, 2012

The future entails a difficult path for India’s grand strategy in this direction. Indian policy makers envisage a possible upheaval in the aftermath of the 14th Dalai Lama’s death. Dalai Lama’s relations with the Indian leadership have been phenomenal. It is important to explicitly define India’s foreign policy on the matter that makes India’s interests clear. There are two possible points of consideration from the point of view of India’s national security interests. Tibet is strategically located in the Northeastern part of India and shares a considerable part of its area with India, Nepal and Bhutan. If Tibet becomes part of China, then India and China would have a much longer border than they have now. Secondly, many believe that Tibet would undergo an ethnic cleansing once China overtakes it. A Tibet with its indigenous people provides greater security to India than ‘Han’ised Tibet.

India has always encouraged the need for dialogue between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese leaders. India would like to stand for the rights and freedom of the Tibetans in the event of China’s invasion of Tibet. The Indians have still not forgotten the embarrassments of its defeat in the 1962 Indo-Chinese war and hence the policy makers emphasize the need for developing the military muscle to counter the Chinese threat and the grand strategy further emphasizes on doing that expeditiously. India already has a strong relationship with Nepal. India fears the leeway that Bhutan might provide to China in the event of a crisis.  India is also strengthening its relationship with Bhutan.

It is clear that India would stand for the freedom and rights of the Tibetans and is preparing militarily for a future possibility of a Chinese threat. I would discuss India’s preparations in the last section. A strategy of encountering China is under-development but it would be important to develop intelligent tactics in the event of an unprecedented situation.

Other Unsolved Border Issues

The biggest border dispute is the 1080 km border between India and China along the Northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh. Along with a disputed border, China claims an approximately 90,000 square kms of territory in the Northeast of India, which encompasses the state of Arunachal Pradesh. The issue of Arunachal Pradesh is so closely linked to that of Tibet for the fact that it borders Tibet and is home to the Tawang Monastery, which is the second most important monastery for the Buddhists after the one in Lhasa. China has stationed some 300,000 PLA troops in Tibet. Currently, there are about 120,000 Indian troops stationed in the eastern sector of India. Responding to the urgent need to build strategic roads along the India-China border, the Ministry of Home sanctioned Rs.1,934 crore on 4 June 2012 for strategic road projects of about 804 kms in order to support the operational movement of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) along the India-China border, both in the eastern and the western sector (Namrata Goswami, June 7, 2012). Another border dispute is the Aksai Chin in the northern disputed state of Jammu & Kashmir.



China’s draconian strategies of not granting VISA to the military chiefs from the state of Arunachal Pradesh and granting staple VISAS to the people of Jammu & Kashmir, have had disturbing reactions from New Delhi1. India is spending large amounts of money and also planning to deploy some 50,000 more troops in the region. India has already started strengthening its airfields in the northeastern state of Assam.


Sino-India relations deteriorated in 2005 in the light of U.S.-India civil nuclear treaty. Indian policy makers are frustrated by the Chinese unpredictability. Though India encourages a continuous dialogue with the Chinese, but the long-term national security goals would only be met by a strong build-up of India’s military muscle to avoid and counter the Chinese threats.