Yet for a number of reasons, the prospects of history repeating itself are slim. India is far better equipped today along virtually every dimension of military preparedness. In recent years, India has expanded its mountain warfare units, redeployed its most sophisticated fighter aircraft to its northeast, and enhanced its naval capabilities as a deterrent against possible Chinese adventurism. The presence and responsible stewardship of nuclear weapons by both sides has also contributed to stability. Additionally, China and India are increasingly economically interdependent, with China now among India’s largest trade partners and foreign investors, and India an important market and source of raw materials for Chinese manufacturers. And the international environment today is far more conducive for India, which now enjoys cooperative diplomatic, economic, and military relations with most major states in the international system.
Despite China’s rapid military modernization, ongoing leadership transition, and newfound assertiveness, New Delhi is reluctant to become part of any overtly anti-Chinese military alliance. It has cooperated closely with China, and against developed states, on several matters of multilateral diplomacy, notably climate change. Multilateral cooperation has also extended to the BRICS summit, the various ASEAN-centered multilateral groupings, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (of which India is an observer). But it would be a mistake to interpret any such tactical cooperation as the emergence of a Sino-Indian bloc that seeks to undermine the power and influence of the United States and its allies.
As recollections of the 1962 war linger, policymakers and commentators across the Asia-Pacific and in the West would do well to understand that the episode still colors relations between the two rising giants. India continues to pursue fruitful economic and diplomatic relations with China and shares many of Beijing’s concerns about its development trajectory, fragile sovereignty, and representation at various international high tables. But the unresolved territorial dispute and the residual memory of Beijing’s assertiveness will ensure that India hedges its bets on China’s peaceful rise. The rest of the world would do well to take notice.
Dhruva Jaishankar is a Transatlantic Fellow with the Asia Program of the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Washington D.C.