Interpreting India

The Dynamic India-US-China relationship with Tanvi Madan

Episode Summary

Tanvi Madan, in conversation with Srinath Raghavan, discusses the dynamic India-US-China trilateral relationship and how China shaped India-US relations during the Cold War.

Episode Notes

Tanvi Madan, in conversation with Srinath Raghavan, discusses the dynamic India-US-China trilateral relationship and how China shaped India-US relations during the Cold War.



Tanvi Madan is a senior fellow in the Project on International Order and Strategy in the Foreign Policy program, and director of The India Project at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC. Madan’s work explores India’s role in the world and its foreign policy, focusing in particular on India's relations with China and the United States. She also researches the U.S. and India’s approaches in the Indo-Pacific, as well as the development of interest-based coalitions, especially the Australia-India-Japan-U.S. Quad.

Srinath Raghavan is a nonresident senior fellow at Carnegie India. He is also a professor of International Relations and History at Ashoka University. His primary research focus is on the contemporary and historical aspects of India’s foreign and security policies. He has written a number of books spanning international relations, strategic studies and modern South Asian history. 


Additional Reading:

  1. Fateful Triangle: How China Shaped US-India relations during the Cold War by Tanvi Madan
  2. The Future of American's Contest With China by Evan Osnos
  3. How American Foreign Policy got China Wrong by Kurt Campbell and Ely Ratner
  4. What Went Wrong? US-China Relations from Tiananmen to Trump by James B. Steinberg
  5. New Delhi Remains Washington's Best Hope in Asia by Robert D. Blackwill and Ashley J. Tellis


🎙️ Check out our podcast, Interpreting India available now on 

YouTube, Spotify, and iTunes! 

Home: https://interpreting-india.simplecast...





Carnegie India Socials:

 Instagram: (@CarnegieIndia)





Episode Transcription


Srinath Raghavan: Tanvi, welcome to Interpreting India!

Tanvi Madan: Thank you for having me on the podcast Srinath. 

Srinath Raghavan: Your book has an interesting subtitle. It says how China shaped US-India relations during the Cold War. Now it's commonly acknowledged that in the current relationship between the United States and India, China is an important factor and we all talk about the Indo-Pacific and the rise of China and what it means for the United States and India. But what about the historical sort of context of China's importance in the US-India relations. It's not something that much has been written about. 

Tanvi Madan: What's interesting is we do see in kind of the history of US-India relations, you often find these momentary, uh, incidents or episodes where China is featured as you know, shaping US-India relations. Uh, one of course is 1962 and the other one is 1971 and having a very opposite impact in those two instances. But what I found as I was researching this book, which was really looking into the question of what is it we're missing about US India relations now that we had access to more official documents from both sides. Uh, what is it that we're missing that doesn't explain some of these, uh, these questions we had about why did US India engage, you know, how do you explain change not just continued in the war relationship. And one of the things I found is that the administrations in the US and governments in India actually did see even going back as early as the period between 47 and 49, uh, and then throughout at least this point till the early seventies, early to mid-seventies that both US and Indian policymakers did think about China as they were thinking about relation to the relationship with the other. 


So let me give you just one instance. Um, we often think of us India relations. Robert McMann famously said, or his, he, the subtitle of his book or title was called Cold War on the periphery in which was about US relations with South Asia. But what we find is in now 1949 when Prime Minister Nehru first goes to the US and meets president Truman, there are two subjects that they discussed, one was Kashmir, which is of course what we hear about a lot in the relationship. And the other was China. And that is also why they welcomed prime minister Nehru with open arms because they had quote unquote just lost China to communism and saw India in that from that framing. So from that early point, uh, the US saw India as kind of potentially a contrast or democratic contrast and potentially a counterbalance to what they saw is obviously communist or red China. 


Um, and then you saw Indian policymakers recognizing that the US saw this framing and saying, how do you use it to elicit aid, uh, and benefits for India as it was seeking to grow. And over the next, uh, about 20 odd years, if not longer than that, you did see China shaping this relationship sometimes in ways that we see today that it was driving them together. But we’ve also seen points in that period of time, including that first, uh, point in the early 50s when the divergence on China, they saw China very differently. Uh, the U S in Indian policymakers, it actually created serious problems between the US and India. 

Srinath Raghavan: And you're referring to the period between say the Korean war and perhaps the height of India, China bonhomie which might be the Bandung conference in 1955 and thereabouts, but how do these views then start shifting? I mean, who makes the shift first? Because India is officially non-aligned during the cold war. You're trying to create a new kind of relationship between India and China. Uh, at what point does the needle start really shifting away from that kind of dynamic? 

Tanvi Madan: So initially the spirit that you talked about, it's not like, um, US and India had diametrically opposed views of China. They did see that even Indian policymakers saw that China could be a challenge. They thought it was further down the line. I think where you start to see the changes and are in about kind of 1956-57, and it's often trace two 59 but it's really in this 1956, 1957 period where you see change on both sides, which is that both the US and India start to see China, uh, as a challenge but in very similar ways. So for example, the Eisenhower administration started seeing the Cold War was not just as geopolitical competition, but an ideological and economic battle, uh, between going to the free world and the non-free world, so to speak, or rather the communist and the non-communist world. And in this framing, it was as important for the US and its allies to win this battle of hearts and minds and stomachs and not just on kind of the battlefield. 

And in this framing India, which is this non-communist country suddenly starts to matter because they need India, uh, to win what they used to call the fateful race with a Soviet ally, communist China. And so they start seeing it differently and decide a need that the US needs to help build India to help them win the race. On the Indian side, the change comes because India starts to see now China as a more geopolitical concern, not just because the concerns about the boundary become more apparent, it becomes apparent that Panchsheel is not quite working out. Uh, the way Indian policy makers had hoped. Uh, there is concern about Chinese, uh, uh, kind of activities in India's neighborhood, particularly Nepal. Um, and there's concern that China isn't living up to some of its promises, uh, that it had made, not just, uh, during Panchsheel. There's also concerned about, how China's behaving globally. 

Uh, and how China's actually hand-in-glove in some cases with the Soviet union, uh, post the kind of, uh, Hungary crackdown. Um, but also in some other instances where Nehru starts to think that his idea that the communist, uh, uh, partners want a monolith is actually not quite working out. So you start to see India actually now seeing China as a geopolitical threat, uh, like, um, the US does. So I think that convergence and that both sides start to agree on how to approach that challenge, which is a partnership with each other, uh, for different reasons, but a partnership with each other and kind of having India play this role in Asia, which is a contrast. 

Srinath Raghavan: I want to sort of explore this particular period of the late 1950s in a little more depth. Now, as you said, you know, the United States and India somewhat independently of each other come to see the challenge which China poses in independently in somewhat different ways from the earlier period of the early 1950s. Uh, but some of my own work, uh, in, in this domain, uh, seems to suggest the Chinese also harbored concerns about US and India working together and actually in more covert ways, right? I mean, for instance, the Chinese would repeatedly are tell the Nehru government that, listen, there are places like Kalimpong in India where there are these emigre Tibetans who are, you know, hand in glove with CIA operatives and so on. I mean, what does your research really tell us about that period? I mean, were those concerns true? Was there a core of truth, which was then kind of blown out of proportion? What is the story? 

Tanvi Madan: So it's interesting you mentioned Kalimpong because I've always said I want to write a either a fiction or nonfiction book on Kalimpong set in the, in the late fifties, because you had separately Indian, American and Chinese officials use the term Kalimpong is the nest of spies. So someday I will write a book called nest of spies based on that could be fiction or nonfiction. I don't think we have enough evidence to know that the US and India, were either, were working together, uh, in as China has said very actively colluding, uh, to destabilize China, whether through Tibetans or through Chinese nationalists, the KMT or the GMD. What we do have I think have evidence of is that, um, and pretty active evidence of is that the, that Indian officials knew about these links between a US intelligence, uh, and Tibetans as well as Chinese nationalists, which were taking place in Indian territory or over Indian territory in terms over flights. 


Because we do have conversations about, uh, Indian officials trying to say, look, not saying don't do this, saying basically either try to avoid it or make sure that the fingerprints aren't seen. Uh, and because in some ways it does suit India to have these links, but there isn't a, we don't have evidence yet and it's possible as we get, um, more information and evidence over time and that we'll see that they are more active. Let's now, is it possible that they were more kind of operational links on the ground that the people at the center in Delhi didn't want to know or kind of knew and look the other way that's possible. But from what we know so far about the fifties is that there was definitely at least some knowledge of it. 

Srinath Raghavan: Okay. Now moving onto the period from 1959 to 62, one of the things which strikes me as very interesting is that despite the fact that India knew that they were on some kind of a collision course with China, you know, 1959, that's when the first sort of border clashes happen. Indian soldiers are killed. 1960 you have the Chinese premiere Zhou Enlai. Like I mean to India, there are long talks which did not go anywhere. Uh, and then you have this slow sort of build up by both sides along the border culminating in the war of 1962. But why doesn't the Indian government during this period, once it becomes apparent that, uh, we are in at least a hostile relationship with China, if not in an active shooting match, not look to the United States for a greater kind of, you know, geopolitical military assistance or security assistance as you might call it. 

Tanvi Madan: What's interesting to me is that you do see in the spirit to some extent, I think not just in India, but even in the US a sense that while these, these, this friction was happening at the boundary that it wouldn't quite break out into a war. And so I think to some extent that gave Indian officials some amount of a sense that they had time. And that time meant that they wouldn't also have to, because bartering in some cases might have in a very active way would have required  either abandoning or upsetting the Soviet partner that India had. And the preference had always been to kind of diversify these relationships, these partnerships to make sure that India had options open. And also the sense in the Nehru government that keeping the Soviet option open meant that the Soviets might use their influence with China to keep, uh, to keep that threat down or to keep them from taking up hostilities active hostilities. 

I think there was some amount of partnership with the US it's not quite to the extent that we see much later, but what we do see is the sense that uh Nehru and his government has that one way of hedging against that threat is to build India's economic and domestic capability. And so you do start seeing conversations both about getting some sort of military equipment. Uh, but particularly on the economic side. The US at this point really becomes, uh, the country that starts really giving aid to India and very much because of the China framing. Um, but the US also does an India looks to it, uh, to try to give it some rhetorical support after us. So this is the anniversary of the famous Eisenhower trip in December, 1959 and one of the things that the Nehru government tried to use it for is to signal China. 

Srinath Raghavan: And of course from 1960, you have John F Kennedy's, who's perhaps up to that point, one of the most pro India, uh, presidents that the United States has. And under him, the democratic party develops a vision for its relationship with India, which, which remains, uh, quite important, uh, at least in the early 1960s and, uh, one of the figures who features quite a fascinatingly in your book, particularly during the 1962 war itself is the man whom Kennedy sends as his ambassador to India, John Kenneth Galbraith. And you are one of the first historians was looked at Galbraith, own papers. Ah, and I, I was just wondering if you could give us a sense of how important was Galbraith’s role in, you know, pivoting US-India relations much closer together at that moment of crisis in October-November, 1962. 

Tanvi Madan: So one of the things the book actually tries to say and the US cover of the book features, not Kennedy as many books do. And uh, I believe yours did as well. Um, uh, on US India relations, it features a picture of Eisenhower and Nehru. And part of the point that I'm trying to make is that it is indeed true that the Kennedy administration, people like Galbraith's but also at the national security council, people like Robert Komer, these, some of these figures, we don't know that they were crucial in deepening that sense of alignment. But one of the arguments that book made is that many of those changes including how India was seen in relation to China actually starts in the Eisenhower second Eisenhower administration. I think where Galbraith really, um, it, it is part of this question of do personalities matter. And the, I argue that personalities of course matter, but personalities also within a structural context. 

So no matter where Galbraith I think matters is that he had a personal relationship with Kennedy, uh, that he, uh, had sense of India going back to his, the academic days, uh, that he also had a person relationship with Nehru. And at those time, American ambassadors could pick up the phone and call the prime minister and you know, engage with a number of other Indian leaders. So I think his ability to essentially, um, convey India sense of concern at the time that he could have that direct link. But I also think we shouldn't exaggerate his role. I think because by that point you did see a larger ecosystem that had bought into this idea that Galbraith has often highlighted. Um, I don't think he caused the pivot. I think he was a key figure in it. Uh, but by that point, the system was already primed to receive this. 

Uh, and frankly, if that hadn't been the case, he could have been writing to Kennedy nonstop about things and Kennedy wouldn't have bothered. So I think the fact that he was actually on the same page as the president who back going back to the mid-fifties, at least even when he was a con, uh, kind of on Capitol Hill and not the white house, had the sense of India that it needed to win this race against China. I think he had a president who had bought into this idea, which is partly why he was appointed. So I think he was crucial in being here and acting as that link. But as the story evolves, he's also one of the figures that was problematic in terms of pushing after the war, uh, pushing for India and Pakistan, uh, to reach a deal, uh, that would make it more conducive for the US to aid India. So I think, uh, his role is very interesting. It's crucial, but it's not as one sided or one directional as we have believed in the past. 

Srinath Raghavan: You know, in the couple of years after the 1962 war, it seems like there is a kind of a divergence in American policy towards South Asia, by which I mean primarily India and Pakistan, which opens up as far as the China angle is concerned. Right? Because on the one hand, you of course have this triangle relationship that you've sort of framed so beautifully in the book, uh, coming up between India, China, and the United States. It's not explicit, right? I mean, it's, it's not no longer about independent assessments, softer convergence things which we can look back and say that yes, those are important points. But very clearly being articulated, the, the kind of challenge that China poses, the threat as it was perceived at that point of time is, uh, is this quite clearly front and center in the way the relationship is being crafted. Right? And we know that after the 1962 war, there are a number of things that India allows the United States to do, even from its own territory, uh, in order to cope with that. But on the other hand, you have Pakistan, which starts, uh, you know, forging this entente with China. Right? So the United States now has this kind of a very tricky problem of saying, listen how, you know, the China factor in the one side is this kind of sharp, but on the other side seems to cut against its own closer relationship with Pakistan. Uh, could you just talk a little bit about how, uh, particularly during the mid-1960s, this sort of balance was struck? 

Tanvi Madan: Um, so it's interesting that Pakistan actually by this point especially, um, you know, late fifties, early sixties, it starts reading the writing on the wall in terms of US India relations. And to some extent, uh, to try to say to the US that look, if you, if you are going to engage with India, we will go and engage with China and China is also kind of open to these links because its relations with India are strained by this point. But you do see kind of to some extent they're trying to kind of use a potential relationship with China as a, a kind of point of leverage with the US you do see Pakistan, but also because I think there's a recognition in Pakistan, uh, that Indian non-alignment actually had its benefits, which is you could actually try to get, um, benefits from multiple, uh, actors. And so you do see this China Pakistan relationship, uh, develop in the early sixties of, of course in the middle of all this China and Pakistan signing this boundary agreement in 63, which the consequences of which still are felt today. 


Um, but you do see also that, um, uh, officials constantly using this China relationship even as they continue to deepen it. Continuing to say to the US well, if you don't give us aid or, you don't limit your relations with India, we will, uh, we will kind of use, uh, we will go closer to China. Now, that point, that argument is actually because it's the first time it started. I mean it's actually, it does work with a number of people and particularly with the defense and intelligence community who had surveillance facilities and communication facilities in Pakistan, which they were concerned about. And so you do see, uh, the US both from the side that they don't want to see China moving close to Pakistan. So maintaining that relationship, um, but also saying to India and Pakistan, look, you do need to make up and focus on the real threat, which is China. 


So the U S is telling India, Pakistan should be part of your China solution. Make up with Pakistan. You can focus on China, India saying to the US look, Pakistan's now become part of our China problem. Uh, but you do see this causing the US setting limits to Pakistan, uh, going to close to China. It is actually what starts to drive a wedge between the US and Pakistan. Uh, not just eventually it gets to even Pakistan Soviet relations. But this idea that, look, if, uh, if Pakistan is really this non-communist, uh, and, and a member of SEATO, which is really anti-China at that point is then how are you flirting with the Chinese? Uh, and how are you complicating our relationship? So you see both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations set real limits of how much Pakistan can veto the India relationship, but it does constrain it for the very real reason that India, saw Pakistan not just alone, but now in conjunction with China as part of the problem. And so you see this really play over the 60s and then 65, the 65 was quite interesting in this regard because it involves all the, not just three actors, but, uh, the Soviet union in Pakistan as well. 

Srinath Raghavan: Okay. So let's jump forward a little bit. We know that by the end of the decade of the 1960, that is another dramatic turnaround are in the triangular relationship, which happens primarily because of Richard Nixon. Uh, you know, attempt to reach out to China and, establish a relationship which would eventually translate into a much more stable sets of things which would be done. And we know the impact of this, particularly due to the 1971 crisis, which you mentioned at that point of time. But I was really intrigued and reading a book that a bit like what you said about Eisenhower, the person who seems to be actually quite important in the context of the 1970s, Jimmy Carter and you again are, I think perhaps the first South Asian historian who's looked at Jimmy Carter's extensive archive and given us a sense of what the Carter administration's role was. Because on the one hand, the God administration also solidified that opening to China. The formal diplomatic relations were established. But at the same time, Carter also reached out to India because Carter became president and just as the emergency in India was being worn down. So give us a sense of what the Carter period and its importance with which your book really closes in some ways. 

Tanvi Madan: The quarter period you see this president come in who himself didn't know very much about India, but his mother had served in the peace Corps. Uh, and so he has this India link. So you know, the kind of stereotype of him as a peanut farmer who didn't really know very much but had very strong ideas about human rights, uh, nuclear non-proliferation. Uh, but this is a period where, which is actually almost set up for the US and India to have the term we use these days as a reset. Um, where he, because India just came out of the emergency. Um, he does overlap a little bit with Indra Gandhi’s emergency era government, but you know, the fact that the election, the called Morarji Desai had expressed in the past concern about nuclear weapons. Um, and so he, you do see this kind of more values based but also on this nucleoside to issues that mattered. 

But one of the things I think we, people often forget about, uh, the Carter administration and not just Jimmy Carter himself, but national security advisor Brzezinski. He's, they also saw this geopolitically. And what you start to see is, we talk to the about a multipolar well, you start to hear them using that language that see we see either, um, the world as a transatlantic world, uh, and we're too focused on US Soviet competition and what we need to think beyond the cold war things that India had been saying that they are, they use the term, they are these regional influentials that will really be that next phase of who will be crucial in these various parts of the world. And for them, the key among them was Indian. Um, there is a China angle here as well though. Um, by this point the US wants India and China to make up because they think it will ease their, uh, problem with the Soviet union, that it will prevent India from getting even closer to the Soviet union. 


And so you see a Carter who was actually initially skeptical about Nixon's rapprochement and he tells Brzezinski, you know, you China friendly folks have gone too far, you even through India under the bus, um, that he decides he needs to have this normalization with China. But at the same time, he is now, uh, using that relationship that he's established. And there’s this is long series of letters which we now have access to between Morarji Desai, Jimmy Carter, they establish this personal relationship. There's long discussions about China, Morarji Desai, explaining India's continuing concerns about China yet that he pointing out that he would like to also stabilize relations with China in 19 in 1979 encouraged by the U S and you see in us China discussions during this time a Carter unlike the previous administrations where they had tried to kind of, uh, you know, create, uh, encourage the friction between, uh, China and India in this case, Carter actually saying to China, you have an opportunity to engage with India in cottaging it. And that way you will keep, uh, you will keep, um, uh, India away from, Oh, you will limit the, the, the extent to which, uh, the Soviet union, uh, will become an Indian, uh, or how far that Soviet Alliance will go.

Srinath Raghavan: So moving closer to the time in which we are and trying to use some of this historical background, which you provide in such rich detail in the book to reflect on the more recent times. I mean maybe you know, jump 30 years from 1977-78 and you'll come to the U S India nuclear deal, which again seems to be this very important event, uh, in recent times, which kind of like one symbolizes but also cements the relationship between the two sides. Uh, to what extent was China a factor there? And of course we know that soon after with the global financial crisis and you know, turn towards a more assertive foreign policy on the part of China means that, you know, that becomes front and center, but at the moment to the nuclear deal itself was being conceived of. Is China in the background or is it more in the foreground really? 

Tanvi Madan: So I think it's in the background in public, but I think very much so whenever we see the papers. When you talk to policymakers, both American and Indian, uh, they've pointed out that it was very, it was very much on the table in the discussions that they had. And you has seen some memoirs which act acknowledged that without kind of this China factor looming, you would not have got to the point, particularly in the US where India would have been seen differently. And you see the Bush administration's idea of India as this contrast and counterbalance to China really as early as 2000, uh, where then campaign advisor, foreign policy advisor in the campaign, Condoleezza Rice writes this foreign foreign affairs article, you know, early 2000 saying, we have spent, uh, we've, we've basically always looked at India in relation to Pakistan. We now need to look at it in the context of a rising China. 


And that very much is the context in which this nuclear deal was signed. Uh, and you, you often have publicly, um, uh, you know, people talking about the nuclear deal as, uh, being motivated by energy needs or, uh, for example, by, uh, you know, India's desire to kind of be recognized essentially as a de facto nuclear weapon state, taking it out of the doghouse, so to speak and bring it into the clubhouse. Uh, but without this kind of concern, this shared concern about China, um, I don't think both sides would have taken the risk and what it did do, I think there was some, it was one of the major contributing factors, but what it also did is it allowed India in the US to get beyond this obstacle that was in the relationship, uh, which was partly, not just about nuclear, but the sense in India that the US was out to stop India's rise or somehow keep it from leadership. This actually, uh, with, and, and in terms of taking, making, taking these steps, uh, opened the door for that greater collaboration across the board. Uh, not just on China related matters and having that discussion of China, but across the board on the economic side and on the defense and security side that we see to the present, uh, to the present day. 

Srinath Raghavan: And of course the Obama administration builds on this, even as China's rise becomes much more prominent in a sense, the global financial crisis spotlights that particular, uh, thing, and then makes everyone aware of China's relative heft in the system and how it has grown. Uh, and of course then you have the pivot towards Asia in which India is said to be an important part. In fact, the entire region is now recast as the Indo-Pacific, as, as, as it's called. And, and of course, in 2015, January when president Obama comes to India, uh, you know, they also have this joint vision statement, which is released. And then that seems like another very important moment in recent times, uh, when, um, much more clearer set of priorities and policies are being conceived off, uh, with China, particularly in mind. 

Tanvi Madan: And it was also signifies something that, you know, we often, when new administrations come on, new governments come here, uh, we often think of something that's new. You know, it's different. The, um, uh, you know, the current thing is that the Trump Modi is more the interaction that US India, are suddenly focused or people are moving together. Uh, the kind of narrative you laid out also shows that, you know, for example, the quadrilateral dialogue who happened first and 2007, 2008 when it was Manmohan Singh seeing and president Bush, uh, you saw the U S India, Japan, trilateral start in, uh, the Obama administration, which is also when you saw the first discussion of the US India discussion on kind of on East Asia and Southeast Asia. And so you've seen now actually fairly consistently, I would say almost for the last 20 years, maybe a little less than that. 

This very kind of bipartisan sense. And I think it's accelerated after 2008, uh, across different governments, uh, and administrations. This idea that there is a shared concern about China and that China has taken this assertive turn. Um, but I think my book has a lesson in this is that it's not enough to just see China as a concern. It is also necessary to agree on how urgent that concern is, uh, what the nature of that concern is and how to tackle it. So one point of difference, for example, between the Obama administration and even the Manmohan Singh government and then the Modi government, which is there was some sense in India that the Obama administration saw China as a challenge but thought it could be managed through largely engagement and in taking a more accommodational approach. Whereas at that time, India in that kind of period between, uh, especially 2009, 2010, uh, and even after that saw the Obama administration thought the Obama administration didn't understand the urgency of the challenge or that an engagement heavy approach would not be sufficient. 

So I think you do see the shared concern about China still convergence driving the relationship. But I think it's also important in the current day, not just to keep in mind that it is not just agreeing that China is a concern. Also agreeing to the approach. I think the other thing that is important to remember is, uh, when the two countries differ on China, that can create problems. So the US the Indian disappointment with the Obama administration saying, you know, the US was too focused on getting a climate change deal. So it was looking the other way on some things that then creates, you don't want to create a sense what China's the only driver driver of the relationship because then when you don't agree on China, it actually creates problems who doesn't leave much with backing. And so it was always, it's always been healthy even while these joint strategic visions have been signed, et cetera, that there's also been other elements of the relationship that there has been convergence on. So for somebody who's written a book saying China's, you know, matters a lot. Um, the book also says, and about the present day, which is that is not the only thing that should be the driver of the relationship because either country can change his mind about China, uh, in the future and that will create problems in the US India relationship. 

Srinath Raghavan: And just building on the point, it strikes me that there is another way, particularly from India's vantage point in which the US China relationship is seen as potentially problematic, is that the United States and China might actually start doing all kinds of deals on top of countries like India, right? So China has been pushing for this G2 framework colored what a new model of great power relations. Basically saying that, listen, the United States has to acknowledge China as a peer, as an equal. And you know, it's always equality and mutual respect, right? And that phrase is never going to be missing in any communicate from the Chinese when it comes to America. Uh, and, and that it seems to me that with the Donald Trump administration, you know, whose line on China tends to kind of stagger and veer, even though there is some level, there is an acknowledgement that China presents not just a security threat, but an economic challenge or technological challenge of various kinds. But there is also, there's a desire that, listen, we need to cut a deal with the Chinese because the president has to go back on camping trail and so on. So there's a bit of a certain lack of clarity about how this might play out So how would you, looking back at almost four years now of the Trump administration, how do you think the China factor really is played out in U S and your relations? 


Tanvi Madan: So it's interesting because I actually think you've seen almost every phase of kind of US China relations and seen the Indian response in this kind of three, four years, to some extent, India is concern about a G2 has been prevalent since 1971. Uh, this idea that the U S and China would come together and that would complicate India's interests. Uh, India's always preferred this kind of very deep, just like the US has this very Goldilocks. You want a U S China relationship that not too warm. Cause that doesn't leave you much space to have leverage then India doesn't have too much room and you don't want to see a too frosty uh U S China relationship because then eat both countries are forcing you to make choices you don't want to make. 

And I think in the last four years you saw in the beginning, um, this sense, uh, when president Trump first came, there's obviously a lot of uncertainty before, but especially around the time of the Mar-a-Lago summit, you saw those concerns about our too warm US China relationship. Uh, and a lot of concern about what that would mean for India's having been for a number of years benefited from the US concern about China. Suddenly this concern with president Trump for two reasons. One that the, as people had believed in the, even the Obama administration, the Bush administration, that because of economic interdependence in the US, China economic partnership, that eventually they would make a deal. Second, there was this now angle of North Korea that China could actually facilitate the US North Korea deal. And so it would make itself useful to the Trump administration. There's a third aspect as well, which is in the course of his many years talking about foreign policy, president Trump has also shown an ability to say, look, I don't understand his skepticism of alliances and partnerships. 

And so there's always been this concern in the back of people's minds. I think that he might be happy with the spheres of influence a world where he says, G2 US, China condominium China, deal with Asia, not our problem. Why should we miss the wasting money there? Why should we care about it? So I think those concerns you saw during that Mar-a-Lago, but I think since that summer of 2017, we've actually seen a more assertive, uh US policy on China, uh, openly calling it a rival and pushing back where previous submission, this is not just a Trump or president Trump thing, it's a Trump administration approach, but also arguably it's something that is wider and across the party, uh, aisle in, um, a political aisle in the US you do see this hardening, this idea that the China relationship hasn't delivered in the way that the US had expected. 

I think for India, on the one hand it's been beneficial because it has created some space in terms of getting defense technology, uh, deepening its partnerships, hedging, for example, against, you know, when China is acting assertive towards India, uh, in the case of Doklam reportedly a US assistance very quietly, uh, on that front. Uh, but you've also seen India be slightly wary of getting too involved because unlike India, which rarely refers to China by name, um, you, you know, having that angle where you don't want to get dragged into things that the US some elements of the competition that the US wants India to be in, but it's not an Indian interest to get involved. Finally, I would just say, um, this is also the Trump administration and the assertive policy that he's taken towards China, uh, or kind of the more competitive approach has created a little bit of a space for India with China. 

Arguably, uh, Xi Jinping would not have come to the table, uh, after Doklam had he not been concerned about an uncertain, uh, US uh, he would not have gone to the Japanese as well, but I think that did create space. Um, and now I think the jury's out. Let's see. I think a US China trade, you, uh, we don't know if it's phase one or pretty much the only. So I think now there's going to be wait and see. It'll partly depend on how China sees the deal and whether it decides that this is the time to actually engage with India to take advantage of Indian uncertainty about what might happen or they have decided that look, India is a US partner, Japanese partner and even its partnership with Russia is partly driven by its concerns about China. So essentially give up on that and focus on trying to get that G2 which then complicates India's interest. 

Srinath Raghavan: So as our listeners start thinking about how this relationship might play out in the future, perhaps we could close by asking you to suggest any particular book or article that you've read lately, which you think, uh, gives us a good handle in terms of understanding how the China factor might play out in US and your relations. Of course they should read your book, but anything else? 

Tanvi Madan: This is a good question. I mean, one of the things I would say is understanding how the China factor is going to play out in US India relations. I think it's important to understand US China dynamics. And I would suggest, uh, two articles that come at it from a different perspective, at least two articles. Um, one is Evan Osnos, his piece, uh, in the new Yorker on what happened in the US China relations over the last few years. And the second is a pair of articles. One written by a few years ago, or maybe not that few years ago by Kurt Campbell and Ely Ratner essentially saying that, uh, the US got, uh, China wrong. Um, and then the recent rejoinder to it by Jim Steinberg, who was deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration, uh, deputy national security advisor in the Clinton administration saying, explaining, uh, that, uh, kind of responding to that critique, uh, that the US um, made a lot of mistakes, um, always China. 

And the reason I say that's important, I think you see the nature of the US debate. Um, and that actually can tell. I think it's important because I think that angle, uh, we know a lot about, often know about US India relations, but I think particularly, um, the, this aspect of understanding US China, I think it's also important, , to read, um, some of Ashley Tellis' recent work. And the reason I say that's important is because Ashley, amongst others who has been one of the people whose laid out this idea that, that India could be that counterbalance in contrast to China. 

Srinath Raghavan: Great. And we link to all of these articles in our show notes. Tanvi, thank you so much first for giving us this brilliant book and secondly for being here. 


Tanvi Madan: Thank you for having me on the podcast Srinath.