Symmetry Strategy

  Indian foreign policy towards China should be based on the principles of Symmetry [Vrimani(2013)] . "Do onto China what China does onto us."  The most fundamental asymmetry is between the size of India’s and China’s economy and the consequent asymmetry in defense expenditures.   The correction of this asymmetry requires a restoration of Indian growth to 8% per annum and to maintain it there for a couple of decades, as China’s growth slows below 8%.[1]  The other asymmetries requiring correction relate to foreign and defense policies. Some elements of this policy are,

Core Interests

    A symmetric approach, requires a clear definition and defense of our “core national interest:” The States of Jammu and Kashmir(J&K) and Arunachal Pradesh are an essential element of democratic, multicultural, multi-religious, multi-ethnic India (our core national interest).  India’s core interest of secularism is grounded in a history of welcoming and hosting all major religions of the world as well as those escaping prosecution from other countries.  The maintaining of secular polity is as much, if not more of a core interest of democratic India, than “Social stability” is for China.  Correspondingly J&K and Arunachal Pradesh are as much the core national interest of India as the autonomous regions of Tibet and Jinxiang and the island of Taiwan are of China.  Similarly China’s references to “One China Policy,” can be counterpoised with a “One India policy,” along the line that Indian diplomats already seem to have started doing.

      The Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean are as important to India as the East China Sea and the South China Sea are to China. If it is important for China to have strong bilateral relations with Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar, it is equally important for India to have strong bilateral relations with Japan, S Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia and Australia. The old colonial and perhaps Neo-colonial illusions of “Watch what we say not what we do,” will not work in this new globalized and information-ally connected world. India has the right to develop as close a defense technology relationship with Japan as China has with Pakistan:  India and Japan must become, “All weather friends” a la China and Pakistan.


The Indian political class has long believed that economic asymmetry with China, means that we must act and behave in a manner that does not offend them.  There are several mistaken assumptions underlying this belief that need to be corrected:  First overall economic asymmetry does not mean you cannot defend yourself against attack or deter such attacks in the first place.  The USSR with 1/4th to 1/3rd of the US economy showed that it could make the World Bipolar.  Second, the Gandhian principle of ‘turning the other cheek,’ no matter how noble it is in an individual context, is not an effective method of achieving peace.  Deterrence, which raises the cost and/or risk of aggression, is the most effective way to reduce the probability of War is by developing enough military might and diplomatic support to deter aggression.

How do you deter a country with approximately 3 times your power. The best option is to acquire an edge in defense technology through close strategic partnerships with countries having the most advanced Strategic-defense technology.  There is unanimity among strategic experts across the World that the USA is the global  leader in strategic-defense technology, by a huge margin.  The acquisition of such technology (with few or no strings attached) must be India's primary objective vis-a-vis the USA.

Infrastructure Buildup

China has built a high quality civilian and military infrastructure connecting Tibet to the rest of China and blanketing Tibet itself right up to the border.  Symmetry demands that we unapologetically do the same vis-à-vis Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh.  When China can send thousands of Han migrants into Tibet, India has an equal right to facilitate the migration of its Ladakhi residents into the border areas. Likewise for Arunachal and the middle sector. The recent Indian approach to building up border infrastructure and forward defense (airfields, strike corp) is the right one, but like all else in India the resources and attention devoted to it by the political and bureaucratic apparatus may flag unless public pressure is maintained. 

Aggressive Diplomacy

We should push defense and nuclear co-operation more aggressively, without constantly looking over our shoulders for China’s reaction.  There are three elements of aggressive diplomacy we must pursue are;

(a) Making our case on the Border and China’s aggressive behavior known to Global opinion makers.  A map of China’s claim line in 1960s as presented by China’s PM Chou En Lai must be printed, distributed and explained to all analysts, diplomats and media interested in  China’s relations with other countries(including India).  Further our willingness to make reasonable trade-offs between claims in the West and East should be made known to these opinion makers.  

(b) A Forward policy on bilateral defense co-operation with all strategically important countries and co-operation in defense production and R&D with all countries with more advanced capabilities than ours (in any area).  This would include framework agreements for co-operation between the Indian private sector and the private sectors of each of these countries.  As we have historically never favored multilateral institutional co-operation in defense (e.g . CENTO, SEATO) and China appears hyper-sensitive to multi-lateral co-operation around its borders, there is no harm in down playing this element at the current time.

 (c) Nuclear co-operation can and should be pursued more forthrightly within the international non-proliferation agreements that we have signed or committed to.  We must step up nuclear co-operation with democratic Japan, S Korea, Australia, Israel, Germany and Canada by an order of magnitude. We have long resisted closer nuclear co-operation with Vietnam and Taiwan.    Though our policies should not and must not show the same disregard for international rules, we can perhaps use this lever to induce China to take a more benign attitude to India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).  Another lever that needs reconsideration is the development of technology for building mega-ton thermonuclear weapons.

Economic Balance

When discussing Sino-Indian economic relations we generally talk of total Trade, less about the fact that 75-80% of the total is India’s Trade deficit with China.  This has begun to change.  Symmetry requires that we highlight, analyze and discuss the massive imbalance between China’s exports to India and India’s exports to China and work to restore the trade balance.  This will not be easy given the export-investment led growth strategy that is still being pursued by China Inc.  We should participate actively in discussions of China’s controlled exchange rate that barely moves despite large surpluses.

  China Inc also has a strong interest in exporting project and construction services and capital equipment to India.  They are also willing to provide longer term low risk loans and equity capital .  This favors sectors like Telecom.  However, with respect to such a “sensitive sector,” we should not be diffident about raising security concerns regarding companies controlled by the PLA or Communist Party linked (so called) private individuals.

With China’s real per capita income about 2.3 times that of India (PC GDP PPP) and nominal per capita income over 4 times that of India, the real and market wage differential should approach those ratios as China liberalizes labor mobility and wages.  Much of the labor intensive export oriented manufacturing sector would then become enormously uncompetitive.  There is a unique opportunity for China to transfer most of this exportable sector to India and make increased profits, while gaining enormous good will in India by creating jobs.  The Indian Government, economic analysts and media should be researching, publicizing and propagating this case.


[1] See papers on India’s growth at  The author forecasts of global growth have long (early 2000s) assumed a decline of China’s average growth below 8% by around the middle of this decade.  See papers at,