Thursday, 18 August, 2022
HomeDiplomacy3 recent phases that marked mistrust in India-China ties — ex-foreign secy...

3 recent phases that marked mistrust in India-China ties — ex-foreign secy Gokhale explains

In a Carnegie India paper, Vijay Gokhale says the most fundamental misperception between India & China is they're unable to comprehend the other’s international ambitions.

Text Size:

New Delhi: Long before the 15 June clash in the Galwan Valley, India-China relations had been steadily declining due to rampant misperceptions and mistrust, former foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale wrote in a paper for Carnegie India Wednesday.

“The most fundamental misperception between the two countries is the inability to comprehend each other’s international ambitions,” he wrote.

Gokhale served as the Indian Ambassador to China from January 2016 to October 2017 with his last major task to resolve the Doklam border stand-off from 16 June to 28 August 2017. He served as the foreign secretary of India from 2018 to 2020, and now works as a non-resident senior fellow at Carnegie India.

In his paper titled ‘The Road from Galwan: The Future of India-China Relations’, Gokhale pointed out that India and China stand at a crossroads with either a “path to coexistence of cooperation and competition” or “a new phase of antagonistic rivalry” ahead.

Also read: India’s appeasement policy towards China has ended, says former Army chief Gen Malik

‘Modi’s Neighborhood First policy hardened mutual suspicions’

In his paper, Gokhale argued that misperceptions and mistrust occurred across three phases.

The first indication of mistrust was after the 2008 financial crisis when China began “expanding its global role”, which sparked a fear in New Delhi that China was attempting to undermine India’s interests, explained Gokhale. “In turn, New Delhi’s counter to these policies fostered an antagonistic response in Beijing,” he wrote.

The second phase was marked by new leadership in either country, which “hardened mutual suspicions”, wrote Gokhale. “[India’s] Neighborhood First policy and closer ties with the United States were perceived negatively in China,” he added.

The term, ‘Neighbourhood First policy’, was popularised by the media after PM Modi began actively focusing on improving ties with India’s immediate neighbours, especially Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan.

Beijing’s assertiveness towards this was “symbolised” in the 2017 Doklam stand-off and China’s increased naval activity in the Indian Ocean, according to Gokhale.

“These actions convinced New Delhi that despite its efforts, China was not sensitive to India’s international interests while also building a negative impression of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s government. Hence, by 2018, misperception and mistrust became a pervasive feature of Sino-Indian relations,” he wrote.

In the final phase, Gokhale explained, policymakers in Beijing reacted sharply to US-India cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, labelling it “containment” or an attempt to restrict China’s maritime position.

‘China perceives India as trying to counter it regionally, globally’

Despite “signs of good chemistry”, when PM Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in China in April 2015, there was pushback from India on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), observed Gokhale.

Within a year, the Chinese strategic community concluded that Modi would be “assertive”, the Neighbourhood First policy sought to counter China’s strategic inroads and that India wanted to lead a maritime defence chain in the Indian Ocean, he wrote. India’s closeness with the US also fuelled perceptions that Modi’s foreign policy aimed to counter China “both regionally and globally”, he added.

Gokhale also pointed out that Chinese analysts view India as trailing China on all global indicators and tend to dismiss Indian aspirations to become a major power.

“It is probable that this perception may also have led the Chinese military to shape a more assertive stance against India along the LAC and may explain the series of incidents that have taken place since 2013,” he added.

(Edited by Sanghamitra Mazumdar)

Also read: How India stood its ground and forced China to end Pangong Tso aggression


Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Support Our Journalism

India needs fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism, packed with on-ground reporting. ThePrint – with exceptional reporters, columnists and editors – is doing just that.

Sustaining this needs support from wonderful readers like you.

Whether you live in India or overseas, you can take a paid subscription by clicking here.

Support Our Journalism


  1. It does not require a rocket scientist to figure-out China’s ambitions…plain and simple, China wants to be The Hegemon, the dominating force in Asia…only way for India to push back, is for her to develop, not just economically, technologically and militarily but geopolitically as well.

  2. Gokhale’s analysis does not have enough content, as it does not want to highlight Modi’s incompetence and what that contributed to India’s precarious geopolitical position today.

    There is no doubt that Modi’s foolhardy ‘Hindu nationalism’ has landed India into a worse position than before with the spectre of having to spend money to defend against a two front war, a threat which did not exist before.

    Xi was clever. When Modi was in the wilderness after the Gujarat riots with the west banning entry, Xi entertained Modi. This was when Modi was the Gujarat CM. Hence, we heard a lot about Modi’s look east policy. Modi was touching Xi’s feet and standing with folded hands, out of gratitude.

    Xi understood Modi’s psychology and weakness of character. He realised after being rejected by the west, Modi yearned for social acceptance and would do anything for it, and would even overlook Indian interests without realising it. For Xi, human rights violation by Modi was not an obstacle, as Xi does that himself in China.

    When Xi came to Gujarat when Modi became PM, Modi was standing with folded hands, expecting Chinese investments. At that very moment, China was doing incursions in Dokhlam. Modi kept quiet. A supplicant cannot complain to the donor.

    Modi organised Indo-Sino summits with great pomp and Indian media proudly made out this was Modi’s initiative, and hence a sign of his genius. As PM, Modi continued with his deferential respect of Xi. In Wuhan, Modi simpered about people-to-people contact through STREANH : S – Spirituality; T – Tradition, Trade and Technology; R – Relationship E – Entertainment; A – Art; N- Nature; H – Health Sector (he meant Strength, he made a spelling gaffe as he is an ‘unpad’).

    In the Mahablipuram summit, Xi was walking around imperiously, while Modi fawned on him like a supplicant.

    When Modi got too cocky and abolished Article 370, Xi gave Modi a kick up the back side. What did our chowkidar do ? He announced there had been no incursion or loss of territory. Even Indian media says otherwise. Due to Modi’s bravado on Article 370, India is forced to spend money it can scarcely afford on the possibility of a two front war. China has India pinned down. Modi is now casting around for the Quad – which is a nebulous concept. It is US led, and India is the weak link – how can the US ask India to be part of a democratic alliance to contain China when the Indian govt. wants to be like Myanamar ? India undermines the credibility of Quad.

    Modi is not a deep thinking statesman as made out by the media. The reality is Modi is an ‘unpad’ from the shakha who issued himself a fake DU degree, and who cannot see beyond having personal power. Domestically, he has killed Indians for power, so he will do anything for it. Equally, he will surrender Indian interests to foreigners like Xi or Trump, or whoever gives him money and power. This is the difference between India and China. China is also brutal and has scant concept of human rights, but Xi will not sell Chinese interests and its economy for personal benefit.

    Xi is not all mouth and no trousers like Modi. Xi would not buy a Boeing to show he is equal to the President of the US. Modi, on the other hand, is like a typical bottom-of-the-Third-World dictator who buys a Boeing thinking that makes him like the President of the US, and shows India as a great power.

    Hence, it is not a matter of trust versus mistrust, it is the mismatch of a competent leader of a country with financial and military power, facing off against a shakha educated, vain megalomaniac with an inferiority complex, who has ruined India’s prosperity and social cohesiveness. India is so compromised that I cannot see how it can recover.

  3. This is one relationship India cannot afford to get wrong. Times change, asymmetry grows. Old equations cannot endure. There is Zero scope in such a complex relationship for personal chemistry. Dokalam was a warning shot that ought to have led to the deepest reflection. Realism, pragmatism ought to be the two dominant facets of China policy.


  5. Typical diplomatic speak. Beating around the bush without mentioning the elephants in the room. Tibetans living in India and China’s support to Pakistan.

Comments are closed.

Most Popular