At a Crossroads? China-India Nuclear Relations After the Border Clash

Toby Dalton, Tong Zhao
Content Type
Working Paper
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
While both countries may think the situation is under control, dismissive attitudes and misperceptions could end up fueling a dangerous competition. On June 15, 2020, a lethal military conflict over disputed territory in the Himalayas shook the edifice of China-India relations. The clash in the Galwan Valley along their shared border is the gravest military confrontation the two nuclear powers have faced in fifty years. This event and ongoing tensions focus attention on the long-standing but tempered competition between China and India. One of the most interesting puzzles of that relationship is why nuclear weapons, which both possess, have not played a more important role. With the potential for a major reset in China-India ties after the Ladakh crisis, are Beijing and New Delhi finally approaching a long-anticipated crossroads in their nuclear relations? The findings reveal that while Indian security analysts give serious attention to China’s nuclear policy and capabilities, Chinese analysts maintain a dismissive attitude about the relevance of nuclear weapons in China-India relations. The attitude stems from a widely held view that India’s indigenous military technologies are significantly behind China’s and that China will continue widening the gulf between the two countries’ conventional and nuclear capabilities. However, Chinese analysts do not appear to fully appreciate the long-term destabilizing implications of this growing gap. India may feel pressure to build out its nuclear arsenal, and this could further threaten the fragile stability between India and Pakistan. Chinese experts tend to underestimate the role Beijing may have in shaping New Delhi’s threat perception and nuclear strategy.
International Relations, Nuclear Weapons, Military Affairs, Borders
Political Geography
China, South Asia, India, Asia