Better Thinking
Image Credit: Brian Hillegas

Better Thinking


While much of the attention on China’s international ties is currently focused on its (apparently warming again) ties with the United States, it’s easy to forget that not too many months ago some analysts were discussing the possibility of military clashes between India and China.

The focus of tensions between the two over border incursions and troop deployments along the Himalayan border were stoked by Indian media outlets and a semi-official Chinese think tank that suggested in August that India should be split up.

Ties looked to be taking a turn for the worse in November with a visit by the Dalai Lama, who spent much of November in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, which Beijing sees as part of China. China has been busily developing its side of the border, and last April vetoed an Asian Development Bank loan to India for developing the region—the first time such a move had been tried.

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I asked one of our Indian Decade bloggers, South Asia analyst Sumit Ganguly, for his take on where Sino-India ties stand now. He described relations between the two as ‘fraught,’ and said China’s decision to start issuing visas to Indian Kashmiris on separate pieces of paper was an additional bone of contention on the Indian side.

However, he suggested that while political ties are tense, trade is a quite different matter.
‘Bilateral trade is flourishing (although) there are important asymmetries both in trade balance and in terms of its content. Indians are either providing services or are selling raw materials while the PRC is sending manufactured goods,’ Sumit told me.

But perhaps the most interesting take he had was this one:

‘Indian expertise on the PRC politics and society is extremely limited. There are no Indian scholars of a global repute on the politics of contemporary China let alone on China's military and strategic capabilities. This lack of expertise, in my judgment, is a huge limitation in India's ability to forge a meaningful strategy toward the PRC.’

It’s an important point. While the shrillness of the political debate can be frustrating in the United States, it has a rich (and growing richer) ongoing policy debate, including on international affairs. The United States has a total of 1815 domestic and international affairs think tanks last year, according to the annual ‘Global “Go-To Think Tanks”’ report produced by the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program at the University of Pennsylvania. India, meanwhile has 261.

New ventures like VIF, a New Delhi-based partner site of The Diplomat, are welcome on the scene—the more ideas and debate the better. But India (and other Asian nations for that matter such as Japan with its 108 think tanks) is still playing catch-up.

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