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Balancing India and China

Interviewees: Sumit Ganguly, Professor, Indiana University
Minxin Pei, Director, Keck Center for International and Strategic Studies, Claremont McKenna College
Interviewer: Jayshree Bajoria, Staff Writer, CFR.org
August 6, 2009

As India and China, Asia's two rising powers, gain greater importance economically and strategically, their future relationship will affect geopolitics in the region as well as U.S. interests in Asia. The two countries have growing cooperation on trade and have been closely aligned on multilateral issues such as climate change. But long-standing border disputes, China's relations with India's rival Pakistan, and suspicions regarding each other's strategic intentions bedevil bilateral relations. Minxin Pei, director of Keck Center for International and Strategic Studies at Claremont McKenna College, says the "good news is that they decide to put aside these differences. The bad news is that these differences will come back some time in the future and even now these differences will emerge from time to time."

Sumit Ganguly, a professor at Indiana University, says the two countries must be more transparent about their military expansion to avoid potential conflict. India and China have been upping their defense budgets, modernizing their militaries, and are increasingly competing with each other in their race for energy and resources to sustain their growing economies. Pei says high-level exchanges between the two militaries, informing one another of border deployments, and discussions of bilateral disputes could help in improving relations.

On global issues, particularly trade and climate change, India and China often present a united front against developed nations. But Ganguly says simply saying no to developed nations is not good enough; they must come up with viable alternatives.

The rise of India and China in the region has long-term implications for the United States. Pei says Washington does not want one dominant power in Asia and has reached out to New Delhi while also pursuing stronger relations with Beijing. But this role of a geopolitical balancer will require careful and deft diplomacy, says Ganguly.


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