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Updated: April 21, 2012 00:58 IST

After the fireworks, time for some diplomacy

    Rory Medcalf
    Fiona Cunningham
Comment (12)   ·   print   ·   T  T  
AGNI V: On its launch pad on Thursday. Photo: V.V. Krishnan
The Hindu AGNI V: On its launch pad on Thursday. Photo: V.V. Krishnan

Post-Agni V, it is important to ensure that the mistrust between New Delhi and Beijing does not deteriorate into strategic rivalry.

The successful test launch of the Agni V intercontinental ballistic missile takes India a step closer to mutual nuclear deterrence with China. But only diplomacy can make that relationship a stable one.

New Delhi's missile development is understandable, given its strategic situation. But the timing of the launch — hot on the heels of the North Korea rocket failure — has put India's friends in an awkward spot. The United States, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), Australia and others who generally wish India well in its strategic rise are being compelled openly to acknowledge that some countries' strategic missile tests are much more acceptable than others.

The fact is a stable deterrent relationship between India and China is in the interest of most nations.

The problem is, much needs to be done to ensure that the current state of competitive coexistence between the two rising Asian giants does not deteriorate into one of strategic rivalry.

On the surface at least, India-China relations have seen a turn for the better in the past few months. The two countries have not only declared their intention to build a stronger bilateral relationship, but have also backed up their words with initiatives, including a dialogue on maritime security.

Disquiet persists

But deeper mistrust lingers. The enduring border dispute and the legacy of the 1962 war constitute one driver of this. But each country has also built stronger security relations with the other's primary potential adversary.

India's relations with the U.S. worry Beijing, if not quite as fundamentally as China's history of military, missile and nuclear assistance to Pakistan troubles New Delhi. India fears what it sees as the encircling potential of China's growing role and interest in the Indian Ocean, while China remains anxious about the way Indian policy and Tibetan activism might interact on the border issue.

This volatile mix is compounded by military modernisation in both countries, competition for resources and influence in third countries, and competition within multilateral institutions. And sensationalised media reporting both stokes and reflects unfriendly public opinion across the Himalayan border.

Solutions are essential

Solutions to these tensions demand difficult political and strategic concessions that neither country appears willing to make at this point. But the two countries will need to find a solution to avoid dangerous and unpredictable crises in the future, sparked by, for example, an incident at sea or miscalculations over Tibet.

This is not to suggest that nuclear-tinged confrontation is likely between Asia's two mega-states any time soon. The imperatives in New Delhi and Beijing to maintain a stable external environment for economic development are strong. But neither power's strategic establishment believes in peace at all costs.

India presently sees a much greater threat from China than vice-versa. China's military capabilities are designed in large part to expand Beijing's options against the U.S., even though they clearly have a mission to deter New Delhi as well.

India, on the other hand, is increasingly updating its forces with China specifically in mind, as the Agni V test demonstrates. India has at times openly described China's nuclear arsenal as a threat, and proposed confidence-building steps such as a bilateral No First Use pact. But China refuses to talk to India about its nuclear weapons in any dimension other than the question of their status under the Non-Proliferation Treaty. This position is neither sustainable nor conducive to stable nuclear relations.

Just as the U.S. and China need to build a strategic stability dialogue that recognises a degree of mutual vulnerability, so too will China and India need to develop a stabilising nuclear dialogue of their own. The ranges of nuclear-tipped missiles deployed in China's western provinces are such that their only plausible targets are Indian cities. But the development of Indian missile and submarine capabilities has a way to go before it can credibly deter China.

Global impact

There are also wider questions about the global impact of an India-China nuclear competition. India-China dynamics could become entangled with the India-Pakistan and China-U.S. nuclear relationships, in a cascade of security dilemmas that is making the vision of global nuclear disarmament ever more distant.

In the end, only New Delhi and Beijing have the ability or the right to address their bilateral nuclear challenge. What is clear, though, is that a big part of the answer must lie in dialogue. The unofficial bilateral dialogues on nuclear issues that have sprung up in recent years are a step in the right direction, but an official nuclear dialogue is needed if real progress is to be made.

The leaders of both countries last year acknowledged a need to respect each nation's central interests. This could provide the grounding of mutual respect for a wide-ranging strategic stability dialogue to begin. Such talks might involve Indian acknowledgement of China's legitimate interest in secure sea lanes in the Indian Ocean, while China would need to finally face the inevitable and recognise the reality of India as a nuclear-armed state. India-China relations would also benefit from Beijing moving to treat good relations with India as being more important than those it has with Pakistan.

A China-India nuclear dialogue could aim to reassure China and India about each other's intentions, the nature and purpose of nuclear and missile defence programmes, and nuclear policies and doctrines. The two countries need to discuss conflict “red lines” and crisis management, as well as to set up operational communication mechanisms at multiple levels to prevent conflict or escalation. The much-touted leaders' hotline needs to be operationalised.

Denying the existence of a problem can become a big part of the problem. Now that New Delhi has underscored its indigenous technological capacity to build a workable deterrent against China, it is time for a show of diplomatic ingenuity too.

(Rory Medcalf is Director of the International Security Program at the Lowy Institute for International Policy, Sydney. Fiona Cunningham is a Research Associate at the Lowy Institute.)

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It is the law of nature and mankind and society that, irrespective of nationality, caste, creed, religion etc, strong respects strong, weak looks upon weak, strong despises and disrespects weak, weak fears strong. Our education and civilization teaches us to upgrade ouselves and take action to prevent us from falling into such above situations. Unfortunately, we as a nation have not learnt our lessons well and since we have not learnt well, we are in real danger of being swept away by actions of nations and interest groups who are not our well wishers. India is doing, at a snails pace albeit, what it ought to have done years ago. We need to be a strong nation. It is time that Indian poliity and political leadership, intellegencia, society, etc.. go back to the basics and re-invent itself, start taking the right lessons, act correctly in the supreme interest of our nation and our people, for our country to take its rightfull place in the comity of nations. Force backed diplomacy needed.

from:  Saswata Maulik
Posted on: Apr 21, 2012 at 13:09 IST

I think the real issue is Indian media. For some reason it has gone out of its way to fan the Indian-Chinese tension. This is a good balanced article. But I bet you there are 100 articles that are hawkish to one that promotes peace.
The way I see it, neither country has any interest in occupying or destroying each other. So why go out of the way to promote war! India only sees China. But does India realize China has to defend herself against the vastly superior military force of USA, Japan, S. Korea right at her door steps. Not to mention Vietnam, Philippines and Australia! Now, India just became a bigger problem. It would be interesting for Indian to put themself in the Chinese shoes and how they'd defend against enemies in every corners.

from:  William
Posted on: Apr 20, 2012 at 22:04 IST

It seems India Can politely watch the drama how situations can
evolve,after the Agni-v making its flight Chinese commented India Can
stage a race but watch US backing India states Exercise RESTRAIN.
Cautiously US wants India success to be used as its weapon by raising
the alarm and as if India can strike China.However Govt should be
cautious as not to hear any such but to adhere for its own policy
which is praised.The severity of owning Agni-v is that so called super
powers cant neglect India as India has the capacity to put satelities
in any orbit it can put BOMBARD ANY CITY IN THE WORLD.

from:  ACHCHUTJOSHI
Posted on: Apr 20, 2012 at 18:37 IST

Nice. The writers of this article need to be congratulated for suggesting ways to stabilize the India-China relationship. The trust deficit between the two neighbors needs to be bridged. The people of both countries want peace.

from:  Shiv
Posted on: Apr 20, 2012 at 18:23 IST

All these bilateral meetings will work up only if the representatives from both the sides come up strong and solve the border issue first. Whatsoever steps both these countries take up for the mutual trust building, all will be milked away by small agitation at the border issue.

from:  Vishwajeet Sinha
Posted on: Apr 20, 2012 at 15:46 IST

I truly feel that both China and India can peaceffuly coexist. Both China and India should not and must not fear each other's capabilities but must actively work to reduce their trust deficit and develop strong relations. This would ensure peace and harmony not only in Asia but also in the rest of the world.

from:  Sameer Bhardwaj
Posted on: Apr 20, 2012 at 14:23 IST

To enhance our country security/stability do we need to get approval all 'big' nations.

from:  srinivas
Posted on: Apr 20, 2012 at 14:12 IST

Perfectly opined. Well written.

from:  Praveen
Posted on: Apr 20, 2012 at 08:18 IST

The article looks great but I read with serious doubt on its intentions. These kind of hypothetical artcles will keep the peublic perception and potentially influence the responsible individuals to buy in the arguments that Indian & China will always have the problematic past on the table. Dipolomacy can be built on entirely new scenario which is realistic & futuristic rather than recalling everytime the History of enimity & win/ loss propostions. Hence I request The Hindu not to encourage articles of this nature.

from:  Bala
Posted on: Apr 20, 2012 at 07:37 IST

Australia listed as a FRIEND of India? A FRIEND? You mean the same
Australia that, until last year, wouldnt even export uranium to India
because we apparently are international nuclear terrorists.

from:  Abhishek
Posted on: Apr 20, 2012 at 05:07 IST

China will not treat India as a partner in global affairs let alone treat equally unless it has credible deterence. Look at its open threat to Indian companies working with Vietnamese and Phillipines in just commercial operations in the international waters of South China sea. China will not hesitate to rattle is military muscle to impose its will on India for a foreseeable future.

from:  Lakshmi Narasimhan
Posted on: Apr 20, 2012 at 04:03 IST

What was the budget of this project, can we expect to have similar
approach by government to eradicate poverty and improve living
conditions

from:  abhishek shekhar
Posted on: Apr 20, 2012 at 03:58 IST
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