State, strategy, power & policy: China and India
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Issue Vol 23.3 Jul-Sep2008 | Date : 30 Jun , 2011

The near absence of a strategic culture in India is further driven home if one scrolls down the Wikipedia listing of military strategists /writers over time. While Chinese names like Jiao Yu, Shen Kuo, Sun Bin, Sun Tzu, Wu Qi, Liu Ji, Wang Xiangsui, Zhuge Liang and Mao Zedong leap out at you, the only Indian in the list is Kautilya. China’s push to become a global power is based on a modern interpretation of Sun Tzu’s classic and Chinese scholars rely on historical strategic lessons and Art of War to develop strategies of the Chinese State and its leaders. In contrast, the strategic lessons India has learnt from its previous wars or international engagements lie locked in ‘Top Secret’ cupboards and Indian strategists and military analysts are denied opportunities to study the past and bring out lessons for the future.

Chinas policy in South Asia”“imposing deep national humiliation on India by exposing its strategic shortcomings in 1962

The contrasting strategic cultures of China and India have strongly influenced bilateral relations in the past. The relations between the two countries will always have elements of competition and contest. Many international relations analysts maintain that given their geographical proximity and sheer sizes, China and India are natural rivals. Nancy Jetley, in her analysis of Sino-Indian relations, in an article written in 1992 stated that, “It needs to be clearly recognised that China’s claims to vast tracts of Indian land are related in the main to ideological intent. The Chinese strategy, as it unfolded after 1959 was designed not so much to gain possession of a few sq thousand miles of mountainous territory–not all of which was strategically vital to China–as to eliminate India as a power of consequence from the Asian scene.

China’s policy in South Asia–imposing deep national humiliation on India by exposing its strategic shortcomings in 1962, tarnishing its image as a great Asian country, systematically eroding its special ties with its Himalayan neighbours, exploiting sub-continental dissensions by embarking on a deliberate policy of collusion with Pakistan and above all weakening the political stability of India through its clandestine support to Mizo and Naga insurgents–has been essentially an exercise in isolating India and eroding its influence in the region.” India regained some of its lost stature displaying superior military strategy in 1971.

The relations between the two countries have improved over the years but land issues are yet to be resolved. China is a patient country with a long memory and Deng Xiao Ping with the usual Chinese farsightedness stated in 1986 that it would perhaps be better if the Sino-Indian border problem is left to be solved by future generations. Much can be read into this statement. Later, in early 1990s, Deng expounded his ‘24-Character Strategy’:

“observe calmly; secure our position; cope with affairs calmly; hide our capabilities and bide our time; be good at maintaining a low profile; and never claim leadership.”

Later the phrase, ‘make some contribution’, was added.

 The strategy suggests both a short-term desire to downplay China’s ambitions and a long-term strategy to build up China’s power to maximise options in the future. There is an ominous ring to this 24-character strategy and India would do well to take heed, even though China may have articulated the strategy with the superior power of USA in its sights.

India’s strategy of ‘non-alignment’ collapsed along with the Soviet Union and the country floundered about without policy moorings for a period. In the recent past measures like the economic liberlisation, declaring itself a nuclear-weapon state and the ongoing strategic nuclear deal have given India a semblance of strategic focus.


Power has been described as the ability to exercise influence over others within the international system.This influence can be coercive, attractive, co-operative or competitive. Thomas Hobbes interprets power as the present means to obtain some future good. US diplomat Charles W Freeman has defined power as “the capacity to direct the decisions and actions of others. Power derives from strength and will. Strength comes from the transformation of resources into capabilities. Will infuses objectives with resolve. Strategy marshals capabilities and brings them to bear with precision. Statecraft seeks through strategy to magnify the mass, relevance, impact and irresistibility of power. It guides the way the state deploys and applies its power abroad. These ways embrace the arts of war, espionage….”

The term power is highly elastic and flexible but its importance and centrality in the relations between nations cannot be ignored. Here ‘soft power’ (as opposed to hard power whose constituents are mainly military muscle and economic clout) is not being discussed. ‘Soft power’ is a term coined by Professor Joseph Nye of Harvard to describe how a country can influence others through its culture, values and media. Ray Cline in his work ‘Power Strategy and Security’ has tried to quantify the power of a state mathematically through an equation:

 Pp= (C+E+M) x (S+W)

where Pp is ‘perceived power’ of a state,

C = critical mass which includes population and territory,

E = economic capability,

M = military capability,

S = strategic purpose, and

W = will to pusue national strategy.

If nations are evaluated by applying this equation it would reveal, roughly, the perceived power of that country. Nations, however, are complex entities and when a generalised model like this is applied to them, some amount of descriptive narration would have to be included. Even then the outcome, will at best, be a comparitive order of perceived power of the countries analysed.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

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Air Marshal Narayan Menon

Air Marshal Narayan Menon

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