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Brookings: India’s Relations with China: The Good, the Bad and the (Potentially) Ugly

Author: Tanvi Madan
October 2013


"There is a debate in India—inside and outside government—about China, which scenario might prevail, the future of the relationship and what approach to take with China. [Almost] equal numbers of those surveyed believe that India 'should join with other countries to limit China's influence' and 'should cooperate with China to play a leading role in the world together.'"

Later this month, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will travel to Beijing. The visit will cap a year that has been full of ups and downs in India's relations with China. The tale of three trips is representative. One in May by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, his first abroad, was intended to signal the importance Beijing placed in the Sino-Indian relationship. But it took place in the aftermath of—and some would say was overshadowed by—a border standoff between the two countries' militaries. In July, the Indian defense minister visited Beijing to rebuild trust and defense ties. Media coverage, however, focused on warnings to India issued by a PLA general, which Chinese officials had to rush to dismiss.

And Singh will be travelling from a country that is largely preoccupied domestically. When discussions do turn to China, they have focused on concerns about Indian capacity vis-à-vis that country, Indian politicians accusing the government of being soft on China and Chinese scholars labeling India's border infrastructure upgrades as provocative. These and other developments have highlighted what Indian policymakers acknowledge—that there are elements of cooperation, competition and concern in the China-India relationship.

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