By Robert D. Kaplan
The cause of the new rivalry is the collapse of distance brought about by the advance of military technology. ByRobert D. Kaplan. Republished with permission of STRATFOR
As the world moves into the second decade of the 21st century, a new power rivalry is taking shape between
India and China,
Asia's two behemoths in terms of territory,
population and richness of civilization. India's
recent successful launch of a long-range missile able to hit Beijing
with nuclear weapons is the latest sign of this development.
This is a rivalry borne completely of high-tech geopolitics, creating a core dichotomy between two powers whose own geographical expansion patterns throughout history have rarely overlapped or interacted with each other. Despite the limited war fought between the two countries on their Himalayan border 50 years ago, this competition has relatively little long-standing historical or ethnic animosity behind it.
The signal geographical fact about Indians and Chinese is that the impassable wall of the
separates them. Buddhism spread in varying forms from India, via Sri
Lanka and Myanmar,
to Yunnan in southern China in the
third century B.C., but this kind of profound cultural interaction was the
exception more than the rule.
Moreover, the dispute over the demarcation of their common frontier in the Himalayan foothills, from Kashmir in the west to Arunachal Pradesh in the east, while a source of serious tension in its own right, is not especially the cause of the new rivalry. The cause of the new rivalry is the collapse of distance brought about by the advance of military technology.
Indeed, the theoretical arc of operations of Chinese fighter jets at Tibetan airfields includes
India. Indian space satellites are
able to do surveillance on China.
In addition, India is able
to send warships into the South China Sea, even as China
helps develop state-of-the-art ports in the Indian Ocean.
And so, India and China are
eyeing each other warily. The whole map of Asia now spreads out in front of
defense planners in New Delhi and Beijing, as it becomes apparent that the two
nations with the largest populations in the world (even as both are undergoing
rapid military buildups) are encroaching upon each other's spheres of influence
-- spheres of influence that exist in concrete terms today in a way they did
not in an earlier era of technology.
And this is to say nothing of
China's expanding economic reach, which projects
Chinese influence throughout the Indian Ocean world, as evinced by Beijing's port-enhancement projects in Kenya, Pakistan,
Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar. This, too, makes India nervous.
Because this rivalry is geopolitical -- based, that is, on the positions of
and China, with their huge
populations, on the map of Eurasia -- there is
little emotion behind it. In that sense, it is comparable to the Cold War
ideological contest between the United States and the Soviet Union, which were
not especially geographically proximate and had little emotional baggage
The best way to gauge the relatively restrained atmosphere of the India-China rivalry is to compare it to the rivalry between
India and Pakistan. India and Pakistan abut one another. India's highly populated Ganges
is within 480 kilometers (300 miles) of Pakistan's
highly populated .
There is an intimacy to India-Pakistan tensions that simply does not apply to
those between Indus
River Valley India and China. That
intimacy is inflamed by a religious element: Pakistan
is the modern incarnation of all of the Muslim invasions that have assaulted
Hindu northern India
throughout history. And then there is the tangled story of the partition of the
Asian subcontinent itself to consider -- India
were both borne in blood together.
Partly because the India-China rivalry carries nothing like this degree of long-standing passion, it serves the interests of the elite policy community in
New Delhi very well. A rivalry with China in and of itself raises the stature of India because China
is a great power with which India
can now be compared. Indian elites hate when India
is hyphenated with Pakistan,
a poor and semi-chaotic state; they much prefer to be hyphenated with China. Indian
elites can be obsessed with China,
even as Chinese elites think much less about India. This is normal. In an
unequal rivalry, it is the lesser power that always demonstrates the greater
degree of obsession. For instance, Greeks have always been more worried about
Turks than Turks have been about Greeks.
Just as a crucial test for
India remains the future of Afghanistan, a crucial test for China remains the fate of North Korea.
Both Afghanistan and North Korea have the capacity to drain energy
and resources away from India
and China, though here India may have the upper hand because India has no land border with Afghanistan, whereas China
has a land border with North
Korea. Thus, a chaotic, post-American Afghanistan is less troublesome for India than an unraveling regime in North Korea would be for China, which
faces the possibility of millions of refugees streaming into Chinese Manchuria.
population will surpass that of China
in 2030 or so, even as India's
population will get gray at a slower rate than that of China, India may in relative terms have a
brighter future. As inefficient as India's
democratic system is, it does not face a fundamental problem of legitimacy like
authoritarian system very well might.
Then there is
abuts the Indian subcontinent where India
are at odds over the Himalayan borderlands. The less control China has over Tibet,
the more advantageous the geopolitical situation is for India. The
Indians provide a refuge for the Tibetan Dalai Lama. Anti-Chinese
manifestations in Tibet
inconvenience China and are
therefore convenient to India.
Were China ever to face a
serious insurrection in Tibet,
shadow zone of influence would grow measurably. Thus, while China is clearly the greater power, there are
favorable possibilities for India
in this rivalry.
Read more: The India-China Rivalry by Robert D. Kaplan | Stratfor