Should India Reassess its One-China Policy?

‘Argumentative Indians’ website had this panel discussion July 26 with Jay Ranade (former China specialist in RAW), Manjeev Puri, an ex-diplomat, Major General SB Asthana (Retd), Chief Instructor, Unted Service Institution of India, Shruti Pandalai of IDSA, and yours truly.

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
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5 Responses to Should India Reassess its One-China Policy?

  1. Amit says:

    Some good points made by the panellists, but I think having too many panelists makes the discussion lose focus and go all over with many points not being relevant and no point being discussed in depth. The moderator should consider this for future discussions.

    Regarding options to deal with China, I mostly agree with the Professor. India should be assertive and should consider using the nuclear option to resolve the Ladakh and boundary issue with China. Regarding other levers we have on China, I think India should not play up Taiwan too much. Yeah, do more trade and establish diplomatic relations but keep out of the Taiwan China clash. Let Japan and the US handle any aggression there. India need not spend its limited resources in that fracas, except for diplomatic leverage (just like the Quad members do not get too involved in the Indo China Himalayan issue).

    We also need to understand the outcomes we want with China. We have to stop the CPEC as it is a security threat to India and we have to resolve our boundaries with China. For this the nuclear option seems to be the most feasible and effective. We also want access to Central Asia which Pakistan does not allow. For this we have to break China’s hold on Pakistan and Pakistan’s obsession with Kashmir. How we do that I’m not sure, but at least India has been clear that it needs to resolve its boundary disputes with China and Pakistan. Maybe the threat of nuclear first use with China, subversion in Tibet and Xinjiang, as well sabotage of CPEC, may force China to resolve its boundary issues with India. But how to handle Pakistan and Kashmir in the midst of all this is not clear. I’m afraid the moderator did not really discuss these issues in depth (at least till half the program after which I lost interest).

    So a lot of time spent talking, without much real discussion.

  2. Sankar says:

    I could not make head or tail of what was being thrashed out here. First, China (PRC: People’s Republic of China) is a member state of the UN, while Taiwan (ROC: Republic of China) is not. Thus, how could one equate India’s recognition of China with that of recognition of Taiwan? The two cases must be judged as of different categories – like chalk and cheese. Hence, the question of ‘reciprocity’ cannot arise in my understanding of the world as it is being thrown up here.

    Second, China has recognized India diplomatically as a sovereign state, or not? If so, where has China drawn India’s boundary? Why are Indians coy about the existence of Tibet? The terminology of “suzerainty” was Nehru’s obfuscating the issue of Tibet in Indian diplomacy. In international law how does it differentiate from sovereignty? Tibet had an independent history according to the Tibetans. On a number of occasions in the past Tibet had thrown back the Chinese Ming dynasty’s aggression on Tibet. Tibet could not have been a part of China – the Tibetan language is of Indo-Germanic origin, i.e. the same as Sanskrit. Here is an eye-opening observation by a European analyst:

    “The question of Tibetans’ … a Tibetan officer, sacrificed his life during an Indian Army operation to take control of the Kailash range on the southern bank of Pangong Tso (lake) in Ladakh on August 29, 2020. … In the night of August 29-30, Tibetan commandos managed to capture from the Chinese a string of strategic high-altitude areas on the Kailash range. It was a resounding victory for India.”
    Read more at:

    In any event, whether Tibet belonged to China or not, that is for the Tibetans to decide, not by the Indians to dictate.

    Professor Karnad’s position reminds me of the NATO strategic doctrine formulated by the French President de Gaulle as “force de frappe”. In the 1950s the Soviet Union was militarily overwhelmingly powerful with respect to and aggressive towards western Europe. The strategy of the creation of the force de frappe was to build a nuclear riposte so that, in the event of any Soviet attack on West Berlin, or elsewhere, NATO would go for a nuclear strike on Moscow. With that prospect of being “blinded”, the Soviets never ventured to breach the boundary of western Europe.

    I am afraid this debate brings out to the fore how subservient the Indian mindset is to China in the international world.

  3. Sankar says:

    Further to my previous post, I like to add the following reference pertinent for this column:
    “India must revisit Tibet policy to stop Beijing bullying”
    It brings out the bankruptcy of the political leadership and many of the so-called “think-tanks” to address the stark reality facing the nation


    Wonderful discussion Mr Karnad. I would love to be part of a similar discussion on the Indian role in upcoming political developments in Afghanistan and Myanmar.

    Do you think that Indian policy of supporting Afghanistan over Durand line issue with respect to Pakistan was a strategically pragmatic one or just plainly Chanakyan usual “my enemy’s enemy” tactical one ? Do you believe that India should have pressured Afghans in the last 2 decades to accept the Durand line since this would have created a better opportunity for better relations between Pakistan and India ?

    Do you think that in the end , this would pose greater challenges for Indian foreign policy vis a vis Pakistan ?

  5. Gaurav Tyagi says:

    The Chinese wish to deal with the Yankees in the same manner, which Professor Karnad advocates to Indian policy makers regarding China;

    The Chinese indeed have their eye on Professor Karnad and are in awe of him.

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