Anatomy of a reset

The India-China relationship has always been too complex to classify under a single theme. Competition-cooperation-discord is an often-evoked term typology that reflects the contradictory nature of this relationship. Last year witnessed all these facets play out: India’s trenchant critique of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), India’s entry into the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, the dramatic crisis in Doklam on the northern frontiers, the acceleration of multilateral cooperation in the BRICS format, and attempts to foster economic engagement. Yet, nothing exemplified the state of ties more than the Himalayan standoff, which was the closest both countries came to drawing blood in over three decades.

Build-up of negativity

What led to this tailspin in India-China relations? We will not find the clues in some valley or a narrow stretch of road in the upper Himalayas. Rather, the main reason has been a systematic buildup of negative images of how each side viewed the other’s foreign policies along with a collapse in geopolitical trust. For India, China’s attempt to raise its economic and political profile in the subcontinent was seen as an encroachment on, and an affront to, Indian authority in the neighbourhood. For China, India’s pursuit of deeper military engagement with the former’s main strategic rivals — the U.S. and Japan — was viewed as a serious challenge to its future security. Convinced that only an assertive policy would work, both Delhi and Beijing over the past two years began exploiting leverages and pressure points to keep the other side off balance. India tilted closer to the U.S., China towards Pakistan, and on a scale not witnessed even during the Cold War years. 

Yet, neither side has been able to extract any concessions or improve the terms of their bilateral interactions. On a range of issues – the Nuclear Suppliers Group membership, Pakistan-sponsored terror and hydrological cooperation being the most prominent — India failed to receive any give from China. With India’s boycott of the BRI, China too found itself confronting not only the only major holdout against its flagship international initiative but also its most suspicious and non-cooperative neighbour in Asia. Beijing also noticed that New Delhi was beginning to openly involve external powers to collaborate with it in an anti-China strategy in South Asia and the Indian Ocean. Worse still must have been the spectacle of India brandishing its Tibet card. Such unbridled competition and rising costs to Indian and Chinese interests — and Doklam was the tipping point — appears to have persuaded both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping that their policies were producing zero-sum outcomes and required some kind of a course correction.

Sensibly, both leaderships have drawn the correct lessons and are reciprocating each other’s moves towards a reset. The traditional template, where India-China differences were handled in an overall framework of a politically stable and mature relationship, is being restored. The rhetoric from the recent meeting between Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi was instructive. The emphasis has shifted from a glass half-empty narrative to a glass half-full: “our commonalities outweigh our differences” (Indian Foreign Minister) or “our common interests far outweigh our differences” (Chinese Foreign Minister). To be sure, we have heard similar rhetoric before. But the context is new as both leaderships hope to infuse stability back into this complex relationship.

Course correction

The Modi government’s decision to resuscitate the China relationship has aroused scepticism from the doubters in the strategic community who think the pendulum will shift towards appeasement after a period of doggedly standing up to China. But New Delhi is really adjusting a policy that has simply not worked. First, it is becoming apparent to the realists inside the government that an adversarial relationship with China brings no advantages and amplifies security problems that India can neither solve on its own nor address with the assistance of external powers who have shown little inclination to deflect Chinese influence in the subcontinent and its littoral.

Second, India-China friction enhances Pakistan’s ability to shape Beijing’s South Asia hand even though the latter itself would prefer a more balanced regional posture and a constructive equation with New Delhi.

Third, a contentious India-China relationship also reduces India’s bargaining leverage vis-à-vis the U.S. and Japan. New Delhi must have also noticed that despite their differences with Beijing, both the U.S. and Japan truly value their interdependence with China. Sino-American cooperation on the Korean nuclear question and efforts to transform North East Asian geopolitics is just one example. Japan, with a $300 billion trading relationship with China, too wants to ensure it remains engaged with the world’s second largest economy. Recently, Tokyo has even endorsed the prospect of a “case-by-case” cooperation with the BRI.

Finally, the Modi government is also recognising that the promise of economic cooperation with China can only translate into meaningful outcomes if there is overall geopolitical stability. Few economic actors will enter the fray if the forecast for bilateral ties is one of uncertainty and turbulence. Mr. Modi’s original instinct to craft a grand “developmental partnership” with China got lost in the geopolitical headwinds after 2014. There now seems to be an effort to reclaim that pragmatic vision.

More than common sense

Since 2014, India’s discourse on China’s rise has swung back and forth from paranoia and deep suspicion to calmer assessments of its implications for Asia and the world economy. Fortunately, there is now a shared belief in both capitals that a posture of hostility has undermined Indian and Chinese interests. But an India-China détente will have to be built on more than just common sense. Mr. Modi and Mr. Xi have their task cut out for them.


1) Evoked

Meaning: Invoke (a spirit or deity).

Example: “Akasha is evoked in India when a house is being built to ensure its completion”  

Synonyms: Summon, Invoke

2) Facets

Meaning: A particular aspect or feature of something.

Example: “A philosophy that extends to all facets of the business”

Synonyms: Aspect, Feature

3) Trenchant

Meaning: Vigorous or incisive in expression or style.

Example: “The White Paper makes trenchant criticisms of health authorities”  

Synonyms: Incisive, Cutting

Antonyms: Woolly, Vague

4) Exemplified

Meaning: Be a typical example of.

Example: “The best dry sherry is exemplified by the fino of Jerez”  

Synonyms: Typify, Epitomize

5) Tailspin

Meaning: Become increasingly chaotic and out of control.

Example: “An economy tailspinning into chaos”  

6) Encroachment

Meaning: Intrusion on a person’s territory, rights, etc.

Example: “Minor encroachments on our individual liberties”

Synonyms: Intrusion into, Invasion of

7) Affront

Meaning: An action or remark that causes outrage or offence.

Example: “He took his son’s desertion as a personal affront”  

Synonyms: Insult, Offence

Antonyms: Compliment

8) Pursuit

Meaning: An activity of a specified kind, especially a recreational or sporting one.

Example: “A whole range of leisure pursuits”  

Synonyms: Activity, Relaxation

9) Assertive

Meaning: Having or showing a confident and forceful personality.

Example: “The job may call for assertive behaviour”

Synonyms: Confident, Forceful

Antonyms: Retiring

10) Exploiting

Meaning: Make full use of and derive benefit from (a resource).

Example: “500 companies sprang up to exploit this new technology”  

Synonyms: Utilize, Use

11) Leverages

Meaning: Use borrowed capital for (an investment), expecting the profits made to be greater than the interest payable.

Example: “A leveraged takeover bid”  

12) Prominent

Meaning: Important; famous.

Example: “She was a prominent member of the city council”

Synonyms: Important, Leading

Antonyms: Unimportant, Obscure

13) Boycott

Meaning: A punitive ban on relations with other bodies, cooperation with a policy, or the handling of goods.

Example: “A boycott of the negotiations”  

Synonyms: Ban, Veto

Antonyms: Approval

14) Confronting

Meaning: Face up to and deal with (a problem or difficulty).

Example: “We knew we couldn’t ignore the race issue and decided we’d confront it head on”

Synonyms: Tackle, Address

Antonyms: Avoid

15) Suspicious

Meaning: Having or showing a cautious distrust of someone or something.

Example: “He was suspicious of her motives”  

Synonyms: Doubtful, Unsure

Antonyms: Trustful, Trusting

16) Spectacle

Meaning: An event or scene regarded in terms of its visual impact.

Example: “The spectacle of a city’s mass grief”

Synonyms: Sight, Vision

17) Brandishing

Meaning: Wave or flourish (something, especially a weapon) as a threat or in anger or excitement.

Example: “A man leaped out brandishing a knife”  

Synonyms: Flourish, Wave

18) Unbridled

Meaning: Uncontrolled; unconstrained.

Example: “A moment of unbridled ambition”

Synonyms: Unrestrained, Uncontrolled

Antonyms: Restrain

19) Rhetoric

Meaning: The art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the exploitation of figures of speech and other compositional techniques.

Example: “He is using a common figure of rhetoric, hyperbole”

Synonyms: Oratory, Eloquence

20) Emphasis

Meaning: Special importance, value, or prominence given to something.

Example: “They placed great emphasis on the individual’s freedom”

Synonyms: Prominence, Importance

21) Resuscitate

Meaning: Make (something) active or vigorous again.

Example: “Measures to resuscitate the ailing economy”

Synonyms: Revive, Resurrect

22) Aroused

Meaning: Evoke or awaken (a feeling, emotion, or response).

Example: “Something about the man aroused the guard’s suspicions”  

Synonyms: Cause, Induce

Antonyms: Allay

23) Scepticism

Meaning: A sceptical attitude; doubt as to the truth of something.

Example: “These claims were treated with scepticism”  

Synonyms: Doubt, Mistrust

Antonyms: Conviction, Belief

24) Appeasement

Meaning: The action or process of appeasing.

Example: “A policy of appeasement”

Synonyms: Conciliation, Propitiation

Antonyms: Provocation, Aggression  

25) Doggedly

Meaning: In a manner that shows tenacity and grim persistence.

Example: “She has doggedly pursued her own path”

26) Inclination

Meaning: An interest in or liking for (something).

Example: “My inborn inclination for things with moving parts”

Synonyms:  Liking, Penchant

Antonyms: Dislike

27) Littoral

Meaning: Relating to or situated on the shore of the sea or a lake.

Example: “The littoral states of the Indian Ocean”  

28) Contentious

Meaning: Causing or likely to cause an argument; controversial.

Example: “A contentious issue”  

Synonyms: Controversial, Disputable

29) Interdependence

Meaning: The dependence of two or more people or things on each other.

Example: “The new economic interdependence of the two nations”

30) Ensure

Meaning: Make certain of obtaining or providing (something).

Example: “Legislation to ensure equal opportunities for all”  

Synonyms: Safeguard, Protect

31) Endorsed

Meaning: Recommend (a product) in an advertisement.

Example: “He earns more money endorsing sports clothes than playing football”

Synonyms: Support, Back

Antonyms: Oppose

32) Fray

Meaning: A situation of intense competitive activity.

Example: “Ten companies intend to bid for the contract, with three more expected to enter the fray”  

33) Turbulence

Meaning: A state of conflict or confusion.

Example: “Political turbulence”

Synonyms: Turmoil, Conflict

Antonyms: Peace, Calmness

34) Instinct

Meaning: A natural propensity or skill of a specified kind.

Example: “His instinct for making the most of his chances”  

Synonyms: Talent, Gift

35) Headwinds

Meaning: A wind blowing from directly in front, opposing forward motion.

36) Reclaim

Meaning: Retrieve or recover (something previously lost, given, or paid); obtain the return of.

Example: “You can reclaim £25 of the £435 deducted”  

Synonyms: Regain, Retrieve

Antonyms: Forfeit

37) Pragmatic

Meaning: Dealing with things sensibly and realistically in a way that is based on practical rather than theoretical considerations.

Example: “A pragmatic approach to politics”  

38) Paranoia

Meaning: Unjustified suspicion and mistrust of other people.

Example: “Mild paranoia afflicts all prime ministers”  

39) Hostility

Meaning: Hostile behaviour; unfriendliness or opposition.

Example: “Their hostility to all outsiders”  

Synonyms: Antagonism, Bitterness

Antonyms: Friendliness, Approval

40) Detente

Meaning: The easing of hostility or strained relations, especially between countries.

Example: “His policy of arms control and detente with the Soviet Union”


Want to learn more, Check the Previous Day of THE HINDU EDITORIAL which was published in our Bankersdaily and learn new words to enhance your Vocabulary.


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