By Robert M. Hathaway
Director, Asia Program

Workshop Speakers:

Lee Hamilton, director, Woodrow Wilson Center
Nicholas Platt, president, Asia Society
Winston Lord, former U.S. ambassador to China
Steven Hoffmann, professor of political science, Skidmore College Susan Shirk, professor of international relations, University of California, San Diego
Harry Harding, dean, Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University
Francine Frankel, director, Center for the Advanced Study of India, University of Pennsylvania
George Perkovich, senior associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
T. N. Srinivasan, professor of economics, Yale University
James Clad, professor of South and Southeast Asian studies, Georgetown University

The Asia Program and the Asia Society (New York) have initiated a major research project looking at the important but poorly understood relationship between the world's two most populous countries, China and India. These two institutions have recruited a team of scholars, led by Francine Frankel and Harry Harding, to write essays on the various dimensions of this bilateral relationship. On November 30, members of this team participated in a Wilson Center policy conference designed to give a Washington audience an advance look at some of the findings and conclusions drawn by these scholars.

Several of the team members emphasized the asymmetrical nature of this relationship – i.e., China looms far larger in Indian eyes than India does in the Chinese world view. This has led Beijing to dismiss India as a serious rival and has, on occasion, encouraged a Chinese condescension, even disdain, that infuriates India and feeds an Indian hyper-sensitivity to perceived Chinese slights. In the security realm, this asymmetry is reflected in the threat perceptions of each; India points to China as its most serious long-term threat, whereas Beijing remains far more focused on Japan, the possibility of a breakaway Taiwan, and ultimately, the United States. In the economic sphere, however, T.N. Srinivasan predicted that China's margin of superiority over India would diminish in the coming years, while James Clad pointed to various "intriguing convergences" between the two. So perhaps the asymmetries of this relationship will gradually decrease in importance.

Harry Harding, one of the project's co-directors, identified the following points as among the most important policy implications this bilateral relationship holds for the United States:

1) the U.S. should regard both India and China as rising powers, with a significance not just regionally but globally;
2) the traditional division of Asia into three distinct regions – East, Southeast, and South Asia – is less and less relevant; the importance of pan-Asian institutions is likely to grow;
3) the U.S. must recognize the complexity of the Indo-China relationship, and avoid simplistic formulations such as "strategic partnership" or "natural allies";
4) the U.S. should develop relations with each country on its own merits, and avoid the temptation to align with one against the other;
5) the U.S. should not fear a closer Sino-Indian relationship; to the contrary, Washington should encourage such a development.

This project represents the most ambitious exploration of Sino - Indian relations ever undertaken by American scholars. The audience members who participated in the spirited discussion following the formal presentations included many of those most directly engaged in U.S. relations with India and China over the past generation.

A published conference report will be available in February 2002. A book presenting the findings and conclusions of the study team will be available in 2003.