Expert Commentary

Divergence, similarity and symmetry in perceptions of threat by China and India

2011 study in the Journal of International Affairs on India’s and China’s perceptions of one another from a security perspective.

China and India are long-term rivals and nuclear powers who share a contested border. As their relative geopolitical strength increases and ability to project power expands, it is not clear how China and India will interact on the regional and global stages with one another in the years to come.

A 2011 study in the Journal of International Affairs, “Divergence, Similarity and Symmetry in Sino-Indian Threat Perceptions,” looks at the implications for potential conflict by examining how the two countries see one another and their “mismatched” perceptions. The researcher conducted interviews with more than 120 analysts and experts within both countries and tracked six major strategic, technical and academic journals between 1991 and 2010 to investigate how discourses on military systems and border security strategies have evolved over time.

Key study findings include:

  • Over the past two decades, the perceptions of Chinese analysts have changed with respect to India but there was a “relative lack of any marked shifts in Indian strategists’ accounts of China.”
  • Chinese analysts primarily view India as an ocean power focused on aviation and aerospace developments. Indian analysts view China as a land power.
  • It appears that, at the level of technical analysis, the two rising powers are not always focusing on the same threats and vulnerabilities. China’s cooperation with Pakistan on the M-9 and M-11 missiles was reflected in Indian periodicals from 1991 and 2010. These descriptions, however, lacked the level of specificity found in Chinese accounts of Indian advances. For example, Indian technical journals included 20 references to missiles and 26 to infrastructure to China’s systems and themes, while Chinese technical journals featured 47 references to India’s missiles and nine to India’s strategy.

The researcher concludes that “in the near term, disjunction of focus among Chinese and Indian strategic analysts on naval and army developments is likely to forestall the chance of competition leading to conflict.”

Tags: security, nuclear weapons, China

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