June 01, 2007

The Dragon and the Elephant: Chinese-Indian Relations in the 21st Century

Jing-dong Yuan is director of the Nonproliferation Education Program at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies and an associate professor of international policy studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. He is co-author of China and India: Cooperation or Conflict? (2003).

Despite unresolved territorial disputes, mutual suspicions over each other’s military buildup and strategic intent, potential economic competition, and the changing balance of power and realignments, China and India have enjoyed 10 years of mostly uninterrupted progress in their political, economic, and security relationship. President Hu Jintao’s November 2006 visit to India, the first such visit by a Chinese head of state in a decade, marked an important milestone in the bilateral relationship. During Hu’s visit, the two governments issued a joint statement highlighting a 10-point strategy to elevate the relationship and signed more than a dozen agreements to strengthen cooperation in trade, investment, energy, and cultural and educational exchanges.

Hu’s visit to India injected optimism and high expectations for Chinese-Indian relations, but the challenges ahead remain daunting. They include unresolved territorial disputes, mutual suspicions of each other’s intentions, and power realignments at the global and regional levels. The substance and consolidation of the bilateral relationship will depend on how the world’s most populous and fastest-growing states manage these challenges as they continue their ascent to great-power status. Moreover, as the world becomes increasingly affected by the rise of these two Asian powers’ phenomenal economic growth and political influence, how Beijing and New Delhi handle their bilateral relationship will be critical for regional and global peace and prosperity in the coming years.

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