Commentary Magazine


China and India, Hand-in-Hand

Today, the two giants of Asia start their first joint military exercises. Code-named “Hand-in-Hand, 2007,” the event brings Chinese and Indian forces together for five days in China’s Yunnan province. The two countries are, in the words of a statement from the Ministry of National Defense in Beijing, promoting “the strategic partnership for peace and prosperity.” Furthermore, they are enhancing their capabilities against “three evil forces:” separatists, extremists, and terrorists.

Is that so? What China and India are really doing is keeping an eye on each other. Neither government will say so, but each of them wants to find out how much progress the other has made since their border war more than four decades ago. “In 1962, India was defeated mainly because of the low standard of the soldiers,” says a Shanghai-based military expert speaking anonymously to Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post. Since then, the Russians and the Japanese have helped train the Indians, and the Chinese want to find out how much improvement has occurred. And the Indians for their part are curious about how much two decades of modernization have improved the People’s Liberation Army.

This decade, these two nations have slowly begun to cooperate in the military sphere, especially since conducting joint naval search-and-rescue exercises in 2003. The Indians say they will hold another joint maneuver with China next year in India.

But the United States, Japan, and the other Asian democracies need not worry too much about an alliance between Beijing and New Delhi. China and India, simply stated, are natural rivals. Yes, there may be increased military contacts, but the ongoing exercises just showcase the problem between them: China has the world’s largest armed forces (2.5 million men and women in uniform) and India the third (1.13 million), but each side is contributing just about a hundred soldiers to the Yunnan drill.

Although the Indians do not want to become part of any “anti-China” coalition, the fact is that they do not have much choice. China, after all, armed India’s mortal enemy, Pakistan, with nuclear weapons, China competes with India for investment capital flowing to the developing world, and China is the other Asian land power. The two countries still maintain claims to the same lands, and this year the Chinese have escalated the tension by unilaterally demolishing Indian military fortifications, intruding onto territory India claims, and escalating rhetoric. So where can India turn for help?

America is the perfect offshore balancer for New Delhi, especially because the two countries share a language, ideals, and even a little common heritage. When Americans finally realize that neither China nor Pakistan can become a reliable ally in the foreseeable future, they will see that the world’s largest democracy and its most powerful one should work together for a stable international system.