Limited Geopolitical Accommodation Benefits for India–China Relations

The nature of Sino–Indian interactions across five issue areas highlights that Delhi and Beijing have more overlapping interests than is generally recognised. Such an analytical exercise also reveals that South Asia is potentially the most contentious arena for India–China relations. A limited Sino–Indian geopolitical accommodation in the immediate neighbourhood is both viable and necessary to arrest the deterioration in the bilateral relationship in recent years and ensure regional stability.

Any evaluation of India–China relations should attempt to analyse the operating framework that guides this relationship. It is increasingly recognised—indeed, it is all too obvious—that the bilateral equation is in stress. The main reason for this flux is that the old framework established in the closing years of the Cold War appears to be unable to handle the intersection of interests between the two sides at a time of change in various settings—the Asia Pacific, Eurasia, the subcontinent, and the global economy.

The old framework essentially sought to mute the security dilemma, which was largely, though not entirely, a consequence of a disputed frontier, while opening the possibility of developing a mutually beneficial relationship in other non-security areas.1 In many ways, this was a pragmatic attempt to craft a stable equilibrium without actual or meaningful accommodation with the core or vital interests of either side. In this sense, the late 1980s and the manifestation of a detente in the 1990s in the form of confidence-building agreements, built around peace and tranquillity on the frontier, were far less ambitious and more incremental than the grand strategic detente one notices in other normalisation processes among the major powers.2 The United States (US)–China rapprochement in the 1970s and the Russia–China rapprochement in the late 1980s stand out as alternative models for a bilateral normalisation after a prolonged period of intense conflict, rivalry, and competition. In these two cases, we can notice more elements of transformation in the bilateral relationship.

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