China and India are more different than they are aligned

Foreign Affairs

Manjari Chatterjee Miller and Manoj Kewalramani share their insight into the complex relationship between China and India in light of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Composite image by SupChina

Below is a complete transcript of the Sinica Podcast with Manjari Chatterjee Miller and Manoj Kewalramani.

Kaiser Kuo: Welcome to the Sinica Podcast, a weekly discussion of current affairs in China, produced in partnership with SupChina. Subscribe to SupChina’s daily, newly designed China Access newsletter to keep on top of all the latest news from China from hundreds of different news sources. Or check out all the original writing on our website at We’ve got reported stories, essays and editorials, great explainers and trackers, regular columns, and of course, a growing library of podcasts. We cover everything from China’s fraught foreign relations do its ingenious entrepreneurs, from the ongoing repression of Uyghurs and other Muslim peoples in China’s Xinjiang region to China’s travails as it wrestles with a surging wave of COVID-19. It’s a feast of business, political and cultural news about a nation that is reshaping the world. We cover China with neither fear nor favor.

I’m Kaiser Kuo, coming to you from Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

This week on Sinica, we continue to examine the impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine: the impact on the geostrategic landscape as viewed from Beijing, of course, and today though, we’re going to be looking at one of the most significant pieces of that landscape, which is India.

If there’s another major power that is conflicted as China is over the Russian invasion, then it’s probably India. Like Beijing, New Delhi has tried to have it both ways, but the similarities — as Beijing may have found out the hard way — don’t go much further than that. If there’s strategic empathy between New Delhi and Moscow and there’s strategic empathy between Beijing and Moscow, the simplistic view might be that by commutative property, there should be the same between New Delhi and Beijing. But it is not at all that simple, especially given India’s deepening security relationship with the United States, and of course the recency of the brutal clashes in the Galwan Valley, between Chinese and Indian troops in the disputed border area of Ladakh.

Here to talk about the view from India, India’s complicated relations with Russia, its rivalry with China and its growing ties with the U.S., are two deeply knowledgeable individuals, who both work on Sino-Indian relations. Joining me from Washington DC is Manjari Chatterjee Miller, Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations and associate professor of political science at Boston University, from which she’s currently on leave. She’s also the author of Why Nations Rise: Narratives and the Path to Great Power, which looks at rising powers historically to understand what sets China and India apart. Manjari, I just picked up the book and I’m really looking forward to reading it, but meanwhile, welcome to Sinica.

Manjari Chatterjee Miller: Thank you so much, I’m delighted to be here.

Kaiser: Also joining me is Manoj Kewalramani, chairperson of the Indo-Pacific Research Programme and a China studies fellow at the Takshashila Institution, a leading Indian public policy education center. He puts out an amazingly good newsletter on China-India relations called “Eye on China,” that I hope you’ll subscribe to. And Manoj, I will ask you to plug that at the end of the show. Manoj, welcome to Sinica.

Manoj: Thank you. Thank you so much, Kaiser. Thank you so much for having me longtime fan. Great to be here.

Kaiser: I am delighted to have you well, I should add that Manoj is also a non-resident senior associate of the Freeman Chair at CSIS, the Center for Strategic and International Studies. And it was actually through that chair, Jude Blanchette, through his good offices that I was introduced both to Manjari and Manoj, although I have been following their work for some time, so thanks Jude.

Listeners to this show have probably followed at least the rough contours of India’s reactions to the Russia invasion of Ukraine and they’re probably aware of Chinese overtures to India and efforts to make common cause as ostensible neutrals, and of course, how India has responded to that. But I think it would still be helpful if we offered a bit of an overview and let’s start with Indian public opinion on the war, the views of media and political elites, also popular views and perhaps some sense of how Indian views on the war line up with partisan politics in India, if indeed they do it all. So, maybe Manjari, you can start us off and talk a little bit about the major media outlets and how they are talking about the war? And then Manoj, in just a bit, since you’ve looked at this quite closely, you can talk a little bit more about public opinion, you being there on the ground and all.

Manjari: Great. Yes, thanks Kaiser. So, it’s interesting because you know, you’ve talked about popular opinion in India on the war and there are layers and layers of opinion in India. So, you have elite opinion, which is of course policy makers, and leaders in government, and politicians and so on. Then you have the media in India, which is still very free and fair, although there have been changes to that. Then you have the middle class in India, which is really a very vast consumer of news in India, both in English and in vernacular languages. And then in India, politicians call them “masses,” so you have large squads of the Indian population for whom foreign policy is not on their radar. So, there are these layers.

So, I think what’s in India today is that you see, particularly in the media, much more division on the Ukraine war and Russia’s role in it than you would’ve seen maybe five or 10 years ago. So, while as you’ve noted, the Indian government is being very careful to stay neutral on the invasion. The Indian media, on the other hand, has debated both the pros and cons of doing this and it has also … In fact, many outlets have called Russia out. They’ve talked about the war as an invasion. They’ve accused Russia of violating the rights of a sovereign country, Ukraine.

That has also ranged the spectrum from right to left wing. So, even on the right wing where there is sympathy for Russia, there have been coverage of, for example, the killings in Bucha and the word genocide has been used as well. So, I think you see a plethora of opinions in the media that is new and that’s really interesting, and that would not have existed five to 10 years ago.

Kaiser: Yeah, and we’ll get to why that change has taken place in a little bit. I notice when we go further down in that hierarchy away from the media elites and maybe talk a little bit about more popular opinion, how are “the masses” as it were, or the middle class, responding to this?

Manoj: Right. Look, I think at think Manjari covered that quite well, where she said that there is a strata of society, which is not necessarily engaged with foreign policy at all, yet the impact in terms of inflation, commodity prices, all of that is being starkly felt, and this is over the last month or so, you’ve seen fuel prices in India go up every day, bit by bit by bit. And that’s been covered regularly by the media, so that those are the kind of things that people are immediately feeling the pinch of. So, that brings the war to Indian homes and it makes it much more real to people who may not be engaged in foreign policy.

On social media, what we are seeing is essentially … I mean, my initial thought on this was that there is a divide in terms of folks who see this sort of historic relationship with Russia and who see that sentimentality in being pro Russia and understanding of Russian security concerns vis- à-vis the others who sort of see this as a violation of international norms and are very critical of the kind of actions that have taken place such as the killings in Bucha, and you see that divide. But I think running at the heart of all of this on social media, particularly, which again is not the best barometer of broader public opinion, but what you see … it’s one of the loudest voices, so at least it gets covered. But what you see is that there’s a much more pro-government position that people are taking.

So essentially, anything that is critical of the Indian government and its foreign policy gets pushback. And since a lot of countries in the West have been critical raising this moral standpoint of India needing to take a position, criticize Russia, that’s led to a lot of pushback. So, while there is criticism of Russia, the fact that the West is pushing India to criticize Russia is what leads to a lot more pushback. So, I think it’s more nationalism than necessarily anything else that’s driving what’s happening on social media.

Kaiser: Pushing, but pushing not really all that hard. I was just this morning looking at what Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman was saying in Brussels just today, the tone that she had toward China and the tone that she had toward India were markedly different. When it came to China, it was all this stuff about failing to condemn the invasion, voting against the expulsion from the UN Human Rights Commission, repeating Kremlin disinformation talking points even, but on India, here’s what she said. Now, this is according to an SCMP reporter who is live tweeting from her press conference, so it’s not a direct quote. But he wrote, “India is an incredibly consequential country for us all. It’s a messy democracy, but so are we. They’re a young democracy. They’re very worried about the PRC. They understand their military built on Russian weapons probably doesn’t have a future based on Russia.” So yeah, a whole lot softer tone coming from the U.S. on that. So, not pushing like they are on China, which I think is very interesting.

Great. Manoj, I wanted to follow up with one thing though, because in one of your newsletters, I think it was from early April, you wrote about the discussion on Russia in Ukraine, in the Indian parliament, and you had 28 MPs that you summed up who had spoken about the war. Was there a noticeable partisan divide? I know that Manjari talked about how in the media, irrespective of whether we’re talking about more right wing or left wing outlets, there was a melange of different opinions, but in parliament, was there, say, a difference between the BJP and its allied parties versus, say Congress, or was there a regional or sectional divide?

Manoj: So to be honest, not really, I think there was a lot of … That said, it’s important to note that the left, the official left in India, is politically sidelined. So, even if the left has a voice, it’s politically inconsequential at present in India. So, so I presume they would be very critical of India’s foreign policy but I think the rest of them were very, very onboard.

I think the view was, and some of the MPs were quite, quite blunt about this, for example, Shashi Tharoor, who’s from the Congress party, his view was that, “Look, we understand that the Russians have done something which is not correct and what sort of friends are we, if we don’t point that out to them?” So, there was that degree of criticism, that India should be taking a little bit more of a moral position on this. India should be being critical of Russia, particularly given the way the invasion is gone. And India should also potentially take a greater role in terms of trying to mediate peace. All of which the Indian government is clearly not interested in doing.

But in general, the navigation of the kind of challenges that this invasion has thrown up, I think there was far more support of the Indian government’s handling of things. A lot of this discussion also focused on the evacuation of Indian citizens from Ukraine. And again, in that there was some degree of criticism, but there was general support of how the Indian government had managed it. So, I think we saw far more agreement than disagreement. What I thought was interesting about that debate, was the fact that there was an acknowledgement that India’s policy and India’s strategic interests were far more closely tied to the West, which I think was interesting. What was also interesting was that most of the speakers who spoke about things like the Russian relationship with China, clearly were concerned about that relationship, and the potential impact of this invasion on that relationship deepening and what that would mean for India’s security.

Kaiser: Fantastic.

Manjari: Yeah. And if I could add something to that Kaiser?

Kaiser: Please.

Manjari: I agree with what, what Manoj said and you actually see this not just on Ukraine. There is a lot of continuity in Indian foreign policy between governments, irrespective of whether it has been the BJP or the Congress, but what’s interesting is the nomenclature changes. And so, if you look at what the Modi government is saying and doing, they have not once used the word non-alignment, even once, even though practically what they’re doing is non-alignment and that’s because non-alignment is indelibly associated with the policies of Jawaharlal Nehru, you know, who was India’s first prime minister and of the Congress party. And the BJP says they’re very different from the Congress, so they will not use the term non-alignment, they use strategic autonomy, which in practice essentially means the same thing, but they’ve changed the term. So, what you see is a change in nomenclature, an unwillingness to say that there is continuity, but in practice, it’s continuity.

Kaiser: That’s fascinating, yeah. It’s always important to look at the deployment of political language and the divides that it wants to signal. I think before we go much further, it might be helpful if we could offer a potted history of relations between India and first the Soviet Union, and after 1991, Russia, and maybe we can take this back and try to do it fairly quickly to 1947, because it’s hard to miss how often Indian commentators who do advocate backing Russia, talk about all that Moscow has done for New Delhi. There’s a lot of nostalgia in it.

So, maybe take us all the way up to the eve of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Manoj, maybe you can start and then I’ll turn to Manjari and you can work China into this. How has Moscow tried to navigate the Sino-Indian crisis? And then of course, how has New Delhi viewed its relationship with Beijing, all the way up to the ugly brawl in the Galwan Valley? So let’s start with you Manoj.

Manoj: Right, so is tricky, right? I’ve been doing –

Kaiser: Yeah, sorry, it’s a big ask –

Manoj: But I mean, let me just begin with, when we think of this history, I agree with you, I think there’s far more nostalgia than there is focus on facts, even in Indian public discourse with regard to the Soviet Union. But I mean, for anybody who’s listening, who’s unfamiliar with this terrain, I mean the three key points and prisms to keep in mind when thinking about India’s foreign policy and its engagement with the Soviet Union since 1947.

Firstly, when India became independent, there was this deep imprint of the colonial experience on the Indian psyche. It had tremendous developmental challenges and the state was essentially going to be a major actor in the economy and promoting social reform. So, the idea that the state would not take a leading role was not necessarily ever going to work at that point of time. There was empathy with the developmental model and the challenges of development. The Soviet Union was encountering … I think Nehru had visited the Soviet Union in 1927. So, there was a sense that there is stuff that you could learn from there. At the same time, because of colonialism in that experience, India was extremely wary of dependencies on external powers. So, that’s one thing to keep in mind.

The next thing is that I think that when we look at the India-Soviet Union relationship, and I’m sure Manjari will talk about this, so I don’t want to take too much space on this, but the idea that it’s not necessarily this entire period from ’47 to ’71, which is the war which led to the creation of Bangladesh. I think that entire period has a period of flux in some way, there are lots of moving parts. And if you want to think of why and how the Indian relationship with Soviet Union developed, you have to think of it as not just the India-Soviet Union relationship, but also as India’s relationship with the United States, Pakistan, China, and the relationships of these entities with each other, because that interplay is what led to the choices and the options that India took and the balance of power that this shaped is what led to India’s relationship with the Soviet Union deepening.

The third key point is that Indian policy even back then, because of its awareness of external independence, was one of having a diversified portfolio of external partners as much as possible. With that said, if I was to go back to ’47, the Soviet Union was already talking about camp politics. Stalin wasn’t particularly interested in a deeper relationship with India. He saw India as a legacy of the British Raj, as an inheritor of the British Raj and from that colonial, capitalist viewpoint. The relationship changed once Khrushchev came to power. And in those early years, I think India was also, like I said, looking for a diversified portfolio. Nehru in 1949, visited the United States, where he spoke about the possibility of a Sino-Soviet split down the road sometime. So, he saw that relationship in the prism of nationalism.

The United States looked at India as a possible democratic partner in the region, particularly after the so-called loss of China and the establishment of the PRC. But yeah, once Khrushchev came to power, I think the relationship tried to change. Khrushchev looked at the relationship as a potential test case for the Soviet engagement wit, the developing world, or back then the Third World. And at the time, you saw the United States shifting closer to Pakistan. There was a mutual defense agreement in 1954, there was the CENTO agreement, which the United States was not a part of, but it was with U.S. partners.

So, that was the framework of that relationship and in the later half of the 1950s tensions, between India and China, created an impetus for India to look for a closer relationship with the Soviet Union in particular. The Soviet Union was … There was an economic relationship, there was a military relationship that was developing, but nowhere close to one that would eventually develop. I think 1962, the war between India and China was a first big inflection point, where the Soviet Union becomes … It faces this dilemma, where it wants to engage with India because of its policy of working with other countries in the developing world and co-opting them, particularly a country, which seems friendly. India had not been critical of the Soviet Union’s action that it took in Hungary in 1956. And there was greater possibility of a deeper relationship.

Yet when the war happened in 1962, between India and China, Khrushchev — the choice between a friendly India and a brotherly China, he chose a brotherly China. India had signed a deal for transport aircrafts and MIGs with the Soviet Union in August, 1962. And the Soviet Union deferred on that deal temporarily. Khrushchev also offered intelligence to the Chinese regarding his engagements with Nehru and his correspondence with Nehru. So, they had made that choice and I think this is again, not something that’s discussed in the Indian public discourse today.

Yet once the war ended, and I think it’s important to think of this period, because the war coincided with the Cuban missile crisis. So, Soviet interests were also divided. So, it was that the war was something that it desired, or it saw as beneficial. It saw it as an irritant, as a potential spoiler. Once time went on, I think once the war ended, Khrushchev was quite publicly critical of Mao, also, chiding him publicly for starting a war against a potentially friendly country. So, there was a balancing act that even they were engaging in, but that’s the first inflection point.

After that you come to sort of Pakistan and the ’65 war. India, Pakistan had a war in 1965. Again, this is a point of time where even Sino-Soviet ties had worsened. In that war, the Soviet Union engaged in trying to broker a peace deal between the two countries eventually. And that peace deal did take place. Nobody walked out of that peace deal happy. One part of the Indian establishment walked out thinking that, “Well, okay, it’s good to have the Soviet Union on your side.” But the other challenge is that the Soviet Union doesn’t necessarily have too many concerns with regards to India’s territorial integrity. Because I think Brezhnev’s comments about the war and India’s concerns about territorial integrity was something to the effect of, there are two sides to every story.

So, there were these differences. Yet what happened in 1965 was that the United States and Britain, which were key arms suppliers to India, post-independence it was France and UK, which were the key arm supplies and India has started buying military equipment from the U.S. since 1951. But at that point in time in ’65, the U.S. and the UK imposed an arms embargo on both India and Pakistan. While Pakistan could work around that embargo, India could not. So, cheap, high quality Soviet weapons were needed, particularly with a hostile China and when Sino-Soviet relationship continued to worsen, it was also Soviet interest to provide these arms to India.

Fast forward to 1971, which is the third key inflection point, which makes this relationship what it is today in our memory, this nostalgic sense of proximity. In 1971, India and Pakistan, again, there was a war that led to the creation of Bangladesh. Just prior to the war, India had signed a peace and friendship treaty with the Soviet Union, which included a clause which said that both sides would consult when there is a threat to the other and consult to eliminate that threat. While the United States was firmly aligned to Pakistan at that point of time, the Soviet Union support to India was critical in executing that war from an Indian point of view.

That subsequently built this closed relationship, which continued deepening all sorts of spheres from, space to defense, to steel and other sort of manufacturing, and all sorts of things. And even the trading relationship continued to grow from there. I think at that point of time, again, it’s 1971, the relationship between the United States and China has thawed. You’ve had that visit by Kissinger and that’s changed the geopolitical environment that India is in and that Soviet Union is in. So, that creates this close, well closer, relationship.

After that, I think the next inflection point that I can talk about is the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. India did not criticize the Soviet Union publicly. It abstained from the UN Security Council vote, but it also realized that invasion fundamentally, again, altered India’s strategic environment. It created a deeper relationship between the U.S., China and Pakistan. And it also exacerbated this problem, which we would eventually face, with regard to Islamist terrorism and jihadism, which would then get exported to India. So it narrowed India’s options even further, and it constrained its room for maneuver.

The fall of the Soviet Union, again, it was quite a dramatic shift for India. It coincided with a time where India’s economic situation itself was terrible. We were going through a balance of payments crisis and subsequently we’d have to liberalize. So, the economic environment and the geopolitical environment fundamentally altered. The 1990s was a decade of readjustment and is trying to deal with legacy issues with regard to things like the rupee-ruble trade agreement. Things started to change from, say the late ’90s. In 1998, India conducted its nuclear test. The Soviet Union was, sorry Russia at that point in time, was supportive of the nuclear tests. Boris Yeltsin had been supportive of India’s position on Kashmir also previously, but that nuclear test did change things. And the Soviet Union went ahead with civil investments in India after that test too, and was supportive of India, which again, created this proximity of that this relationship is coming back to where it was in some ways.

Under Putin, since 2000: Putin visited India in October, 2000, that gave fresh impetus to this defense agreement and defense relationship and it’s grown since then. A couple of points before I hand it over to Manjari is that when the decision on South Ossetia and Abkhazia took place, I think in 2008, India wasn’t critical of that publicly. When the annexation of Crimea took place, India wasn’t critical of it publicly.

In fact, when the annexation of Crimea took place, the Indian national security advisor, Shivshankar Menon, who was in government then had said something to the effect of, that we understand the legitimate security interests of Russia. So, it was a different tone than what you’re hearing from India today. In fact, today India is far less approving, if that was an approving tone.

Kaiser: Right, India still doesn’t recognize Crimea as Russian territory, right?

Manoj: Yeah. None of that is recognized, yet it’s not been publicly critical. And likewise, leading up to this current invasion of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin visited India in December, 2021, there is a long, 99-point joint statement that was issued between the two sides. But if you read through the statement, it tells you that there is breadth in the relationship, but there isn’t necessarily the depth. The trading relationship is just under $10 billion. It varies between $8 to $10 billion, dominated by defense. And there’s been years and years and years of talk about diversifying that relationship to build greater depth, but it’s not taken place.

However, and this will be my last point, but however it is there is that there is political trust and the lack of any fundamental conflict of interest. Now that to me, is changing. This current war in Ukraine fundamentally, potentially changes that conflict of interest situation, which leads us to potentially a much more difficult relationship down the road.

Kaiser: That was a tour de force. Well done, well done, and admirably economical.

Manjari: I was going to say-

Kaiser: So, Manjari, let’s turn to …

Manjari: Wow, that’s hard to … So, that was really masterful, Manoj. That is like 10 volumes of Indo-Soviet-Russian history, condensed into about seven minutes. Congratulations. So, I think Manoj has done a great job with the detail. So, let me just step back and give you an overall picture, right? So, I think where I diverge from Manoj is on the nostalgia. So, he thinks that this is really more about nostalgia for the relationship, but actually what I think it is, is that if you actually look at the history of India-Soviet Union relationship, what you see are three factors that become really important.

So, once Stalin passes away and you have Khrushchev, who’s much more amenable for many, many reasons, to India, you see three things happen that are really important in the relationship and continue in some aspect or the other, in weakened aspects but in some aspect or the other, even today. So the first is, of course, the material support, right?

So, where India gets amounts of economic aid, as well as military aid, military equipment, from the Soviet Union at very cheap prices, first of all, and without any conditions, which are both music to India’s ears because when it comes to equipment that the United States offers, it’s much more expensive and often it’s extremely conditional. So, it gets this from the Soviet Union.

The second thing that happens is that there is an ideological affinity. What do I mean by this? Sorry, this is the academic in me, so I’m bringing out that phrase. But it’s really about the fact that you have all of these elites in India, these post-colonial elites who come to power, who are all socialists. They’re Fabian socialists, and they deeply admire the Soviet Union, and they actually admired the Soviet Union, even when Stalin was in power, but Stalin never returned the favor.

And so you have this ideological affinity where Indian elites look at the Soviet Union and say, “This is a country that is socialist and communist, this is something we admire.” And on top of that, they see ironically, the Soviet Union as deeply anti-imperialist. And remember, India’s a postcolonial country.

Kaiser: Of course.

Manjari: And they see the Soviet Union stating in its manifesto that it’s against imperialism. So you have, now what we know are really bizarre things like, Nehru goes and visits the Soviet Union and in his letters, because he was a copious writer, he praises Soviet prisons and says how wonderful they are. So you have this ideological affinity.

The third thing that happens is as consequence of the material support and this ideological infinity, you have public support from the Soviet Union towards India, and India towards the Soviet Union, on multiple occasions. So for example, in 1961, when India annexes Goa, which was a Portuguese colony, the Soviet Union supports India. In 1971, as Manoj talked about, in its war with Pakistan, with Kashmir multiple, multiple times in the United Nations.

Manjari: So, all of this really cements the bond between the Soviet Union and India, creating this political trust that Manoj just mentioned. Now, when it comes to China, it’s a little bit more complex because you have the … So, the defining moment for India when it comes to China is the 1962 border war, which it loses very, very badly, right?

Now, in this border war, the Soviet Union’s position is complex. So, on one hand, what you see is the point that Manoj raised, which is that the Soviet Union stalls on selling aircraft to India at this time and so India actually turns to the United States, which then provides it military supplies, including extreme weather clothing, as well as aircraft.

Now, on the other hand, what you also see, what we now know from declassified records, is you look at these conversations that Khrushchev was having with Mao at the time and what we see as the Soviet Union is really trying to play a neutral game because you have this deteriorating Sino-Soviet relationship at this point. And at the same time, the Soviet Union is more friendly with India under Khrushchev. So Khrushchev does things like he directly accuses Mao and blames him about killing people on the China-India border and blames him for escalating the conflict, both privately and later publicly.

You also have the Soviet media, that actually publishes these editorials, talking about Chinese atrocities against Tibetans and how the Western media have criticized China. It stays silent on Chinese accusations of India providing support and refuge to the Dalai Lama, as well as supporting the rebellion in Tibet. What you see is that because essentially of this ideological affinity, the arms provided by the Soviet Union, and this public support that happens over and over again, you have this capital built up, this trust, between India and the Soviet Union.

And today what you see is remnants of that, in a certain way. You’re seeing political trust that’s very hard to erode because it’s institutionalized, over decades of support. So, that is also a fact. It’s not the only factor, but it’s definitely a factor in India and Russian relations today. I think what has become even more complicated by now is Russia’s closening relationship with China, right?

Kaiser: Right.

Manjari: So, Russia went from essentially the Sino-Soviet split of 1964, to what we see today, which is this growing affinity between Putin and Xí Jìnpíng 习近平. So, that really, really worries India. So now, when you take on one hand, this political trust that India believes it has with Russia and then pair it with the fact that India says, “Whoa, wait a minute Russia is getting closer to China which is absolutely our enemy number one, make no mistake about it.” That’s when you begin to see that India’s position on the Ukraine crisis becomes really a lose/lose situation, no matter which way it turns.

I mean, if it supports the United States, it alienates Russia and drives it closer to China. It supports Russia, it alienates the United States, which has become a really important strategic partner. So, there’s really no good options here and you see that because of this long history of the relationship.

Kaiser: Right, that’s excellent. It really puts things into a very, very clear perspective. Manoj, you mentioned that Indian trade with Russia is only $8 to $10 billion, it’s generally in the high single digit billions. Trade with China hit triple digit billions in 2021, it was like 120 billion, I think, 118 or 120 billion. You said that the Indian economic relationship with Russia is primarily still … I mean, the lion’s share of that is in military hardware. What else does India import from Russia? Are they dependent at all for grain or for hydrocarbons?

Manoj: I think the hydrocarbon trade is very limited. There’s been talk about expanding Russian energy supplies, there’s been talk about more investment, but I think that’s not really happened and I think it’s going to be much more difficult down the road for that to happen.

I was reading today, in fact, that India started exporting some degree of its primary goods to Russia again, for example, tea, rice, fruits, coffee. India exports pharmaceuticals. Fertilizer’s another area where the two sides have been talking about deeper trade. There’s been talk about deeper engagement in coal and steel. So, I think that’s the contours of the relationship and defense is fundamentally the dominant aspect. Through the pandemic, I think we’ve seen greater engagement with regard to health, with the Russian vaccine being approved in India and being used in India widely.

Kaiser: Right, Sputnik.

Manoj: So, I think that some of that essentially, but the fact that the trade needs to diversify, it needs to go into … The Indian economy is a service economy predominantly. Services engagement is very limited, even in terms of what Russia manufactures. Again, defense is the biggest component. Hydrocarbons is difficult because of just the cost of transporting, and the infrastructure for transporting energy from Russia to India. If you were to do pipelines, it passes through very difficult, tricky terrain. Sea trade, it’s extremely cost inefficient. So, that’s what limits fundamentally, this thing. I think we’ve been speaking about this with the Russians for a very long time, but very little has essentially moved.

Kaiser: So Manjari, in China, as we’ve talked about a lot in recent weeks on this program, attitudes toward the war in Ukraine really reflect attitudes toward the United States, ultimately. What about in India? Is there something else looming in the background of discussions within India over the war and the sense that New Delhi should take? I mean, in other words, is it really about China for a lot of Indian people?

Manjari: So, let me take a step back from that, actually. So first of all, I would say that attitudes, even in China, I mean, we don’t know. I mean, we don’t really have really great public opinion surveys of what the attitudes in China are towards the war in Ukraine and whether they align with the United States. Certainly the official line is that, but even when there’s been digression on the official line, that’s been pretty rapidly scrubbed. So, it’s hard to know exactly what the overall sentiment is, but yes, you’re right. I mean, it’s very nationalistic and it does seem to align its hawkish views towards the United States, particularly what we see on social media.

In India, is it really all about China? It really is in some ways, much more about China than it is about Russia, I would say that. I think, when India looks at the Ukraine crisis, it doesn’t see it the way the United States does, which is the United States sees this it as this authoritarian regimes versus democracy, and a fight for democratic order over authoritarian order. I mean, India’s a democracy and that is not how India sees it.

So, in that sense, India does see it as really more as what are the outcomes going to be if this work continues, vis-à-vis China and China’s place in the world. There are two or three scenarios that could happen. I mean, the one scenario that people have talked about is of course, what is China taking away from this, in terms of its own attitude towards historical territories and Taiwan? And in India’s case, that then translates not into Taiwan, but into the border areas. What is China taking away from its attitude towards India’s historic border areas? So, that’s one part of it.

The second part of it is, what will the United States take from this? Now, what India would really like the United States to do, is to have a better relationship with Russia and work with Russia to contain China. Now, that’s India’s ideal scenario. Now, India’s absolute non-ideal scenario is when the United States decides that it’s going to work with China to contain Russia. That’s its non-ideal scenario. So, that fear is maybe an outcome of the war in Ukraine, where in India’s view, the United States might take its eye off the ball, so to speak, the ball being China and focus entirely on Russia, which would be deeply problematic. So yes, I mean, I would say for India, the Ukraine crisis, it’s not about world order. It’s more about world order, vis-à-vis China and how this will matter for China’s rise geopolitically, and particularly how it’ll matter for India’s territories on the border.

Kaiser: Manjari when we were chatting a couple of weeks ago, you raised what I thought was a really compelling point about just how important China is when it comes to Indian foreign policy considerations, vis-à-vis the United States, and how U.S.-Indian relations you were saying, always lurch forward in these fits and starts and how it’s always deepening. Every couple of years, you see another round of news reports talking about how it’s deepening, but you said it never really ever quite gets there and that the big factor though, that does drive whether India is in fact deepening its relationship with the United States, is the state of its relations with China. So, maybe by way of giving a little bit of an historical overview of India-China relations, there are warmer periods. In fact, there was a warm spell not very long ago, that ended rather abruptly with the Galwan, but can offer some illustrations from recent history about how that whole dynamic works?

Manjari: Sure. Yeah, I mean, to be fair, I will say that everything in India happens in fits and starts. So, there is that aspect of it that’s in the country’s DNA. But, I think the reason I mentioned that to you was because it really does make me laugh because every couple of years you’ll see an article by yet another pundit talking about how India-U.S. relations have deepened. And as an academic, I assure you that going back 30 or 40 years, there are articles that talked about how the India-U.S. relationship had deepened. And of course, it never really deepened, so it’s this deepening and how India would be a wonderful strategic partner to counterbalance China. Those words have been around since 1947, and every few years somebody trots them out and talks about them again, and how it’s … So, if it were any more deep, we’d be at the bottom of the ocean, but we’re not there. So anyway, I don’t think it’s completely accurate to say that it’s all about China. It’s also about the U.S.’s geopolitical calculations, right?

Kaiser: Right.

Manjari: I mean, in India-China’s case, the 1962 war was really fundamentally transformative for Indian foreign policy in a way that it wasn’t for China. So, China does not regard the 1962 war the way India does. For India, it was transformative because, it took a relationship that it had with China, which was actually quite good and built on this idea of anti-colonialism and there was this very popular slogan at that time, Hindi-Chini bhai bhai, which means India, China brothers, and Nehru again, as I said, was a socialist, deeply admiring of communist China, and then that becomes this border clash and India really badly loses this.

So often, 1962 is when India designates its foreign policy and starts really ramping up its military and its defense equipment with an eye towards China. What’s really interesting is in 1998, when India goes nuclear, India doesn’t cite Pakistan, it talks about China. China is the reason it goes nuclear.

So, there’s this quote that I often use in my writings and I’ll say it because I love it so much, a very high ranking Indian official once said this to me. We were talking about China and Pakistan and they said, “Oh Pakistan, Pakistan’s just an enemy. China is the adversary.” And that is really … Was emblematic of India’s attitude and the difference between them. So, I think that spillover definitely dictated. I mean, when you look at the decline of the Soviet Union in the 1990s and the rise of China, it absolutely influences India’s decision to deepen its strategic partnership with the United States. But I mean, it’s also the United States which looks to India at this time. In the 1990s, there’s still this perception that China will eventually democratize and become just like us, if we cooperate into the liberal order and that doesn’t happen and the United States … And especially now, when you look at the attitude towards China, it’s completely different. The perception of China is very high. It’s bipartisan, it cuts across parties. So, India becomes also really, really important for the United States. So, you see this meshing that happens in the post Cold War world.

Then the third part of it that comes up is the United States starts talking about the Indo-Pacific and Indo-Pacific strategy. Well, the “Indo” in “Indo-Pacific” comes from India. Without India, you don’t have an Indo-Pacific strategy, you have a Pacific strategy. So, that also becomes an important linchpin and it’s interesting because the United States wakes up to the realization that India’s a democracy, something that had always been the case, but had never really mattered, I mean, in terms of India-U.S. relations that much. I mean, India was never a threat to the United States. It was never an enemy, but it didn’t consider it in terms of really friendly, deep relations, but that also becomes important. China’s authoritarian and so India’s this probably perhaps like-minded democracy that the United States can work with.

So, you have all of these factors that converge to make this partnership in the post Cold War world. India’s preoccupation with China, the United States’ preoccupation with China, the decline of the Soviet Union, as well as the turn towards the Indo-Pacific.

Kaiser: Right, and despite the difficulties now, since February 24th, we still see American diplomats showing very, very different attitudes toward India than they do toward China, like I just gave you in that quote from Wendy Sherman in Brussels. Manoj, India is certainly not the only country in the world toward which Chinese diplomacy can be pretty reliably tone deaf. From what I’ve observed, the tone-deafness is particularly pronounced though, when it comes to India. This was on display once again, with Wáng Yì’s 王毅 visit to New Delhi last month. So Manoj, we start with you, but then, Manjari, please feel free to jump in. Can you talk about why you think Beijing fails to grasp again and again, how what it says will fall on Indian ears? And then after that, maybe we can talk about what happened specifically on Wang Yi’s visit to New Delhi in March and his meeting with S. Jaishankar.

Manoj: Right. Before I get to that, I just wanted to add two more points to what Manjari said about the India-U.S. relationship and the rule of China. I think there were also, if you look at post the collapse of the Soviet Union, like I said, India also went through an economic crisis and Indian economic policy shifted. That was a key factor in terms of how India looked at the United States also, and this liberal international order, if there was anything of that sort.

At the same time, I think through the 1990s, if you look at the people to people engagement between India and the United States, that fundamentally started to change. There were many more Indians who were going to study in the U.S. and just the West in general. Popular culture in India, had people studying abroad. Most Bollywood movies, which are about the rich and the affluent, had somebody going abroad to study, or somebody coming back from studying abroad, and things like that. So, the aspirational nature of society also shifted in terms of looking towards the West.

And lastly, of course, I think terrorism and much more agreement with regard to the threat of Islamist terrorism, post-September 11, I mean, one of the views in India was that, “Well, now you realize what we’ve been telling you for over a decade.” So, there was much more agreement on all those sorts of things also. I think even through that period, if you look at India, it’s been much more wary about talking about China openly, when it comes to its engagement with the U.S. In 2005, as early as 2005, when Manmohan Singh was then prime minister visited the U.S., he was categorically asked about India’s engagement with the United States being about China. He was categorically in denial. He said, “This is not about China. This is about something else.” At the same time, India was pursuing closer relationship with China also.

Coming to the point as to why I think that there is tone deafness, I think it has a lot to do with a certain amount of … Because if you look at the engagement between India and China, and you look at the conversations that Beijing is currently having with DC, you’ll see a parallel. What China is telling DC is very similar to what India is telling China. There’s a stock pattern, where it is about … If you look at what the Indian foreign minister Jaishankar spoke of a couple of years ago, in terms of the relationship with China, he talked about these three mutuals. Mutual respect, equality, mutual appreciation for each other’s aspirations, and things like that, which is very similar to what Beijing tells DC nowadays, yet I don’t think that –

Kaiser: Except that it’s five mutuals or something.

Manoj: Yeah. So, I don’t think that registers and I think that doesn’t register necessarily is because of what exactly is China’s perception of its place in the world, firstly. It sees itself in my view as the leader in Asia, to begin with if nothing else. And India in that sense can be a spoiler in that ambition. So, that’s one of the views.

Secondly, I think historically there’s been a perception of India as a messy democracy, as economically a country that … Sort of that little engine that could have but didn’t, that sort of perception, I think that persists. At the same time, I think a lot of how China views the world is through the prism of the United States and its competition with the United States. Therefore, it places India within that spectrum, which denies Indian foreign policy the agency –

Kaiser: Agency, right.

Manoj: … Of actually acting. And I think that’s fundamentally a problem. Now, is that a structural problem with great powers? Perhaps, and I think those are the reasons why I think that is tone deafness and that continues. I don’t think Beijing at present feels that it needs to make the kind of concessions that India desires it to make. The flip side of this argument is that if there was some sort of a negotiation between India and China to reset the relationship in some ways, what is it that Beijing desires from India? Is that tangible enough for India to give it that? I think Yun Sun makes this point in one of the pieces I’ve read in couple of years, where she argues that what Beijing desires from Delhi is intangible. It desires, not a close relationship with the United States, but how do you define that? What are the red lines in that? And what sort of commitments would Beijing accept? So, I think those are structural reasons why the relationship is going to remain difficult, but fundamentally I think my view is that I think it’s a largely a product of China viewing the world through the prism of its competition with the United States.

Kaiser: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I think that you’re right though, that there is part of it and you hinted at this, that it is structural, that it is endemic to great powers to be tone deaf toward the ones that they regard as hierarchically below them. But also, I think you’re absolutely right. If you tried to ask any Indian person or any Chinese person, what do you ultimately want from the relationship with India? There aren’t potentials. It’s not like the Indian market is closed to China. There’s $120 billion in trade and it’s mostly unidirectional. There’s a gigantic trade deficit. Yeah, I mean, I think these aren’t easy to put into words. It’s something to do with we’d like you to maybe quit the quad, to put some distance between yourself and DC and that’s about it. What about you Manjari, what would you add?

Manjari: I think this is really interesting discussion about why, because it’s so hard to quantify exactly why China doesn’t get India, but it really doesn’t. I think Manoj is right and I think it does view the world in terms of the United States. I mean, I remember, once I was at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and the number of us experts you had were a dime a dozen, everybody was a U.S. expert. But people who worked on India, there were maybe like one, one person or one, two people, and you’d really more tend to find them in the southern states, so Shanghai would have more, right?

Kaiser: Right, right, right.

Manjari: Yunnan would have more India experts towards the southern states, but in Beijing, no. And so that was interesting, but it’s also more than that. I mean, I think it’s also simplistic to reduce it to just that, it’s also the fact … I mean, I actually think about in terms of historically, even before the 1962 war, which by the way, China really did not grasp how important that war was to India. But even before that, you see some of these latent tensions. So, there was a conference in 1955 in Bandung in Indonesia, which brought together African and Asian nations for the very first time to protest against colonialism. I mean, this is huge, right?

I mean, this is the first time in the history of the world. You have these developing countries, so-called Third World, as we used to call it, get together and come together to condemn colonialism and Bandung is the first time that China has an international audience, it’s invited to Bandung. So, what you see even in Bandung is Nehru trying to mentor Zhōu Ēnlái 周恩来, introduce China to the world of nations, because India’s an organizer at Bandung and it turned out, Zhou Enlai really resented that. He did not like that one bit. Then fast forward to the negotiations in the border territories, this is the last negotiations before a war actually breaks out in 1962, and Zhou Enlai comes to Delhi to talk to Morarji Desai and Nehru and there are these transcripts of the negotiations. It’s fascinating to read, where it’s kind of like two preschoolers having an argument about who’s been more colonized, and who’s suffered more, and who has more claim to the mantle of leadership because they’ve been colonized.

So, it’s just really interesting because you see those latent tensions about who’s top dog in Asia and how, and what experience they’ve had that allows them to claim that mantle and that leadership. Then of course, fast forward to the 1990s when China begins outstripping India, in terms of economic and military capabilities, and then you of course have this imbalance and that that cements this hierarchy and these tensions that have been latent.

Kaiser: So, I’ll go on to Wang Yi’s visit. I mean, it struck me that Wang Yi was hoping to offer something, like an olive branch to lower the temperature, at least. He had a line about China rejecting the idea of a unipolar Asia, which means we don’t want to be the hegemon of the region and respecting India’s role. How did Beijing misread New Delhi so badly on this?

Manjari: I think they have fundamentally different positions on this. I mean, what China would like is for India to set aside the border issue, for India to not fall into the United States’ camp, and for India to continue its current position on Russia. But for India, it’s a huge trust deficit. So, Wang Yi talking about Kashmir, going back to the tone deafness, did not help. And so for India, it just can’t afford to set aside the border issue. It thinks that there was a status quo on the border that was actually shattered by China and while India doesn’t want to join any United States camp, it also does not want to do anything that pushes Russia into a China camp.

So, I think if the aim is that once … I mean, what India would like is that once disengagement takes place, there would be a gradual deescalation. And eventually, there’d be these pre-April 2020 locations of troops would pull back along with equipment. So, India would like a complete return to the status quo and assurances that the status quo will not be violated. Although India has also not been very clear about exactly what it expects along the border, but I think there’s a fundamental disconnect in how they see their positions.

Kaiser: Manoj, is there a possible scenario in which Beijing actually does satisfy Indian hopes and desires for the settlement of the border issue, and in which China actually can enlist India in this Bandung 2 idea of its devising? Is that even within the realm of possibility, or you think China’s wasting its time?

Manoj: I honestly don’t think that it’s within the realm of possibility, but then I mean, you never say no to anything. But it’s really, really remote in my view. I mean, I think look, Wang Yi’s trip in some ways was successful from his point of view. Reporting tells us that India will be attending the BRICS summit. Prime Minister Modi will be attending the BRICS summit. It’ll be done online, which I guess is a easy solution for everybody. So, I think in that sense, that’s one outcome that is positive from a Chinese point of view.

I agree with Manjari, I think from an Indian point of view, at this present moment, it’s about the boundary issue and it’s not just about the positions and the boundary. It’s what that represents and what that represents, from Delhi’s point of view, is Chinese coercion. And the fact that remains alive and the potential for coercion at any point of time remains alive.

Manoj: Firstly, for any Indian government, it’s politically destabilizing to have that coercive sword hanging over your head. And this is a government which enjoys tremendous popularity and a majority in parliament, yet it politically has struggled to manage this narrative around the incursions.

Secondly, I think it represents the fact that Beijing wants to keep Delhi busy on its continental boundaries. It wants to train resources, Indian resources, to be dedicated to its boundaries, which make it difficult for India to invest in maritime power development, which is again, an area where … I mean, I think India has not done itself too many favors in that domain, in terms of how it’s gone about developing maritime power. But this adds far more strain in terms of that.

Manoj: Thirdly, I think it again, represents this fact that while China is saying, and while Wang Yi said that we don’t want a unipolar Asia. He also said something to the effect of, “We appreciate India’s historical role in the region.” Yet at the same time, he organized a foreign minister summit in Afghanistan, specifically excluding India. If the argument was that India is not a direct neighbor of Afghanistan, well, neither is Indonesia, but Indonesia was invited. So, it’s useful to see what they’re doing while they’re saying what they’re saying. And I think New Delhi is watching all of this.

Why I don’t think that we will see any sort of thaw is partly because my sense is that I don’t think that Beijing is currently interested in something like that. It has not been interested for a long time in actually settling the boundary dispute. There’s been a conversation between special representatives in the boundary for a very long time now. And at a point of time, there was talk about both sides sharing maps, about mutual perceptions of where you think your territory claims lie. And again, from an Indian point of view, when India shared its map, Beijing balked at it and it returned the map and that conversation went no further.

Kaiser: Wow.

Manoj: So, if you’re not even willing to share what your claim is, it’s really difficult to arrive at a solution to this. Structurally, I don’t think that therefore, we are going to see something like this happen. Now, is there a possibility down the road, somewhere in the future? I think that’ll have to require a significant change of heart in Beijing, which I don’t see happening.

Kaiser: Indeed. I want to talk a little bit about the personal relationships between and among Xi, Putin and Modi. Manjari, a lot has been made about the relationship between Modi and Putin. How close are they in fact, if at all? I mean, I remember us chatting with Manoj and he says, “Modi hugs everybody,” right?

Manjari: I was exactly going to say that. I was going to bring up that quote. I remember Manoj saying that and thinking it was exactly apt. He hugs everybody. I have not heard of any kind of deep personal relationship between Modi and any world leader, let alone Putin and Xi. So, I don’t think that’s the rapport that they have. I think what they might have is political capital, but that’s really more with Russian diplomats and the Russian government and this level of trust that Manoj and I spoke about, rather than any personal rapport, leader to leader.

Kaiser: Right, right. I’m personally very skeptical about any claims about close personal relationships between and among leaders who don’t speak the same language.

Manoj: I think if there is a personal relationship that we could talk about that Modi’s had with the world leader, I think the closest that you would come to is Shinzo Abe. I think that was a particularly close relationship and that was a personal relationship, which also led to deeper India-Japan cooperation.

Kaiser: Yeah. And the Quad, the entry into the Quad. I want to also ask about any obvious tensions that there are in the Russo-Indian relationship. I mean, aside from the war itself, which of course puts a strain on things because of, like you said, inflation, rising petrol prices and so forth, but Putin couldn’t have been happy for example, about the nuclear deal between George W. Bush and Manmohan Singh. He was probably not very happy about India joining this revived and reorganized quad, not that it was specifically aimed against Russia, but now he looks to his east and sees another security arrangement, NATO for Asia. So, are these tensions anything that are talked about in the Russian media that you’ve seen? Are they anything that Indian analysts bring up? Or are they pretty negligible, all in all?

Manjari: Well, I actually don’t follow Russian … I don’t speak Russian, so I do not follow Russian language media, I’ll be honest. So I don’t know what the Russian media have spoken about with regards to this. I do know that India has been concerned about its deepening, I’m going to use the word deepening, relationship with the United States and it’s reentry into the quad. And it’s been acutely aware that it has implications for its relationship with Russia. So, I would say that India is sensitive to any tensions on Russia’s part when it comes to the quad and the India-United States relationship, and is aware that … and this is one of the paradoxes that … Well, the dilemmas that India faces, that by becoming closer to the United States, how does it become closer to the United States, diversify its defense equipment, but yet not alienate Russia?

How does it take part in the Quad and expand its cooperation with Australia, the United States and Japan, and yet not give any indication that this smacks of any camp or alliance and not alienate Russia? So, India has been very, very sensitive that there may be tensions in Russia’s part. And India does believe to a certain extent that it’s because of the strategic partnership with the United States, which by the way, in the last 10 years, I mean, we haven’t discussed this, but I should say this, this is not the relationship 10 years ago or 20 years ago, right.

Kaiser: Right.

Manjari: I mean, let’s not forget that the United States placed sanctions on India after the nuclear test. So, this is a very different relationship today and that’s apparent. Whatever the fits and starts, it’s gone further than that.

Kaiser: Manjari, I’m sorry to interrupt you, but you had a great illustration of this. I just want to plug something that you do, which, it’s very cool. You work on something for CFR called “Women You Should Know in India,” it’s a series. You were telling me when we were speaking earlier, about how that reflects this broad, really astonishingly broad, set of relationships that India now has, that have just developed and as you remind us, only in the last 20 years, with the United States. Maybe could you talk a little bit about that and tell listeners where they can find “Women You Should Know” in India?

Manjari: Yes, thank you for the shout out. That’s awesome. Yeah, so this is a project that I just launched at the Council on Foreign Relations called the “Women You Should Know in India” project. And what we do is twice a month, we interview women in India, very senior women in the field, who can speak to sectors of the India-U.S. relationship that matter. And essentially, when we talk about the India-United States relationship, we’re really only talking about security, right?

Kaiser: Right.

Manjari: I mean, I work on security as well, but what we are doing is bringing in all the different ways in which the India-U.S. relationship have expanded to have this depth that Manoj was just talking about, that’s lacking in the India-Russia relationship. And so actually, one of the interviews just came out today with Anju Srivastava, who is the managing director of Wingreens farming, which is a farm to table food company that empowers farmers and essentially talks about how India can meet a demand for ethical sourcing of food and organic food that consumers actually have in the United States and how there’s opportunities to invest in these tech startups in India.

We had interviews a while ago with a constitutional lawyer who talked about how India actually has some of the most extensive protections in the world, and yet how these are being rolled back and why that matters for the United States. We interviewed Krithi Karanth a couple of weeks ago, who is the head of the Wildlife Conservation Society of India, if I remember correctly, and she talked about how the U.S. Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has funded conservation in India for decades, irrespective of which party has been power in the United States, and how it’s continued to do so. So actually, when we talk about the saving of the rhino and the elephant and the tiger, a lot of that comes from U.S. taxpayer money, and that relationship has really developed. And so what you see is this depth that exists across sectors, that has really developed over the last 20 years, and did not exist 20 years ago. So, I think that’s what’s going to carry the relationship forward as well.

Kaiser: Interestingly though, with China, you could almost have said the same thing up to before 2020, you could have looked at the Indo-Chinese relationship and said, “You know what? It’s actually trending very positive as well. There is engagement on a whole lot more levels. There are a lot of Indian entrepreneurs. There are a lot of Chinese entrepreneurs now operating in India. There’s a lot more activity, connection points besides at that leadership level, more commercial interests happening.” But that, of course, is gone now.

Manjari: Well, I don’t think there was ever the … The thing is, there’s always been a trust deficit between India and China, that’s the issue. And there’s always been the border issue looming in the background. With the United States, you don’t have that. I mean, you never had political capital, but you didn’t have a trust deficit either, exactly. And you certainly didn’t have a territorial conflict on in your doorstep.

And then you add to the fact that India’s a democracy and the United States is a democracy, I think those things matter as well. So yeah, you’re right. I mean, look at the trade relationship between China and India today, it’s huge. It’s, what did you say? 125 billion?

Kaiser: 120 billion, yeah, yeah.

Manjari: And the United States and India is, I think about 112 billion. But despite that, I would still say that it lacks depth. It has breadth, but it lacks depth. Whereas the United States and India relationship really has started … there’s that word again.

Kaiser: I’ve heard it’s deepening, yeah.

Manjari: Deepening, I’ve heard its’ deepening too.

Kaiser: Fantastic. You guys, as I was prepping for this, I was thinking about how China wants to see a more genuinely, multi-polar world. It fears that with the U.S. and the EU really closing ranks over the war, there’s a real danger that if Russia is militarily defeated and diplomatically isolated, ostracized, we’re going to see a post Cold War unipolar world continue on. I mean, it’ll be back to what it used to be. Then I thought that perhaps from where India sits, the world already looks really multipolar. I mean, this has come up again and again. I mean, it’s a very complicated polyhedron that India sees. It’s never a simple triangle. It’s never just a bipolar world that it looks at. That’s been fascinating to me. Can you guys talk about how the Indian take on the geopolitical and geo-economic state of the world is right now, and what India’s preferred scenario for a post-Ukraine war world would be? I mean, we talked about this a little bit, what the ideal Indian scenario would be. But as implausible that is, I’m just picking from among more realistic scenarios that might emerge. What does India hope comes out of this?

Manoj: Right. So, in terms of, I think how India views the world, in the world order right now, I think that it’s sort of a G 2-and-a-half, see?

Kaiser: That’s good, I like that.

Manoj: You’ve got the U.S. and China and you’ve got Russia, which is militarily extremely relevant and that’s obviously unstable.

Manjari: You should patent that Manoj, G 2-and-a-half.

Kaiser: Yeah. G 2-and-a-half.

Manjari: Copyright it!

Manoj: I think that along with that, in terms of … When it comes to multipolarity, I think you’d hear the official statements talking about multipolarity as an aspiration, but I think that obscures the fact of what multipolarity means, does that mean equal poles, which clearly we’re not going to have. Does that sort of multipolarity with deeply imbalanced poles, with China being obviously the dominant in Asia, is that to India’s benefit? So the way I see it, and I don’t know how Delhi sees it, but the way I see it, that’s clearly not in India’s benefit. To that extent a world order, which is tilted towards American power continues to benefit India. Because it allows India the space to continue to grow. And also from a values point of view, this is personal, I think that my affinities lie far more with values where there is freedom of speech, freedom of expression, equality and all of that. And obviously apart from that also, the ability to question government. I think all of those are values, which are great from an Indian point of view, liberal values, which are great from an Indian point of view. I think this is partly also a domestic debate, which in India is currently underway. So, from that point of view, I think when I look at the world order for the foreseeable future, given the fact that China’s rise is not something which is transient, it’s there to stay. China’s going to be next door to India. We are going to have to deal with a country which is far more powerful and which has demonstrated that it can be politically hostile to you. In that environment, I don’t think multipolarity in that sense, I think really works from an Indian interest point of view.

Manoj: What India would like to see play out in Ukraine, I mean, ideally of course, it would’ve not wanted to see the war at all, how it would like to see this end is … In that sense, I think maybe there is some commonality, I mean, at least rhetorically. China talks about a new European security order, which is sustainable and durable. Yet in that sense, I think China sees the EU as a far more significant geopolitical actor emerging out of all this as being a positive outcome from its point of view, which reduces European dependencies of the United States. I think India differs on that. I don’t think India would mind that relationship, yet it would like to see accommodation of Russia. I go back to Manjari’s point, that India would like to see the United States have a better relationship with Russia, at least a stable relationship, which allows it to focus on China. So that’s its best-

Kaiser: That’s the unrealistic …

Manoj: Yeah, that’s the best case outcome. In terms of what’s a realistic outcome, is that actually the conflict ends soon without further escalation, without the potential use of far more lethal weapons, potentially weapons of mass destruction, without some of those boundaries being crossed, without it expanding further into Europe, into different countries. So, it wouldn’t want to see an escalation. It would like to see the conflict end soon, and potentially there to be a negotiated settlement as quickly as possible. The realistic estimate is that even if it continues, it continues at the low grade, but there is some sort of accommodation soon before there is serious escalation, which can at least create room for India to continue engaging with the Russia.

Manoj: A problematic outcome for India would be a hostile United States, which sees India’s engagement with Russia as deeply problematic and further constrains India’s options in that regard. I think that would be a deeply problematic outcome.

Kaiser: Thanks so much. Manjari, last word to you.

Manjari: Oh, wow. Yeah. I agree. I agree with all of that.

Kaiser: Yeah, yeah. I think it’s hard not to.

Manjari: I guess I’ll say one last thing and this is what you get Kaiser, for inviting an academic on the show. I am going to bring in some international relations theory, which is that, Manoj talked about how it’s quite widely known that India would prefer multipolarity. And what I’d say to that is, also be careful what you wish for. So if you look at Ken Waltz’s work, he talks about how a more stable world is a bipolar world and multipolarity increases the risk of conflict. And India doesn’t want a bipolar world because it doesn’t want to choose camps and it worries that it would have to choose a camp. But in terms of stability, not that I necessarily agree with him, with Waltz, but that is what he says. So, I’m going to just leave it at that.

Kaiser: And you would prefer a unipolar world, but hey, so it goes.

Manjari: Or, certainly a unipolar world with no Ukraine crisis ever having happened.

Kaiser: You guys, this is fantastic. What an enjoyable conversation, and I’m not going to let you go yet, but I first of all, wanted to tell you, I’d love to have you both on the show again. I think we’ll revisit this topic. It will be evergreen and be very interesting. So please, if you’ve got any new papers that you’re publishing or anything … I mean, I already subscribe to Manoj’s newsletter, but I’ll be keeping an eye out on your work as well. And let’s get you back on the show soon.

Manjari: Thank you so much.

Kaiser: Meanwhile, let’s move on to recommendations, but first, a quick reminder that the Sinica Podcast is powered by SupChina. And if you want to support the work that we do here with the podcast, with the other shows in the network as well, we’ve got some terrific shows. Please remember that the best thing you can do is to subscribe to SupChina’s China Access newsletter. That’s what really helps keep the lights on here at our little humble operation. All right, so onto recommendations. Manjari, let’s start with you. What have you got for our listeners?

Manjari: Well, I’m just going to say this. I have just started watching Bridgerton and I recommend it. If you want to stop thinking about Ukraine, China, India, Russia, the United States, nuclear weapons, please watch Bridgerton.

Kaiser: It’s so funny because I have a recommendation that starts with exactly that same preamble. Basically, if you want to alleviate your weltschmerz for 90 minutes or so, and you don’t want to think about the Ukraine war, then I’ve got one for you. But great, Bridgerton, I’ve been meaning to you it’s on my queue and I’ve been saving it.

Manjari: It’s pure fluff and it’s beautiful.

Kaiser: Yeah, yeah, that’s really good, yeah.

Manjari: And gorgeous, and everybody’s gorgeous and the dresses are beautiful.

Kaiser: I could use that, yeah. All right, that’s a fantastic recommendation, Bridgerton and that’s on Netflix, right?

Manjari: It is.

Kaiser: Okay, Netflix. All right. Okay, Manoj, what do you have for us? Before we forget, please do tell people where they can subscribe to “Eye on China,” also.

Manoj: Right, so there are two newsletters that I’m currently running. One is “Eye on China,” you can find that on Substack on the Takshashila website, and there’s also a daily newsletter on the People’s Daily, which I’ve strangely grown to really, really enjoy reading it.

Kaiser: Yeah, no, we love that one too. We read both of yours.

Manoj: Yeah. That’s also on the Takshashila website and it’s all on Substack. My recommendations, I had two recommendations. I didn’t have one. I wanted to recommend a book, which talks about all the things that we’ve spoken about today. It’s India And Asian Geopolitics: The Past, Present by former Indian national security advisor, Shivshankar Menon. I think it’s a wonderful read on everything that we’ve spoken about today. I wanted to recommend something which talks about my past life. Many, many years ago, as a young man, I wanted to become a Bollywood superstar, unfortunately, that did not work out, so I thought I’d recommend the movie that shaped my Bollywood dreams. It’s a 1995 movie called Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge.

Manjari: Oh my God. Yes, absolutely. I second that recommendation.

Manoj: So, I recommend everybody watch that. It’s a wonderful movie, which lots of song and and happy endings, which is the kind of stuff that we need today in life.

Kaiser: Absolutely. I think we’re all going with escapism as a theme here, this is great.

Manjari: Oh, and Kaiser, you asked me where people could read the “Women You Should Know in India” project and I forgot to mention that it is on CFR’s Asia Unbound blog. If you just subscribe to it, you will get all of Asia Unbound’s updates, including the bimonthly interviews.

Kaiser: Fantastic. Great, great, great. Like I said, if you want to alleviate your weltschmerz for 90 minutes or so, and you have a Netflix subscription, I’m going to recommend a movie called Metal Lords. It’s a high school comedy written by D.B. Weiss. And I believe it was produced by among others, David Benioff, the two guys who did Game of Thrones. It’s just a rocking, feelgood movie, that’s a slightly tongue in cheek homage to this genre, heavy metal, that usually takes itself way too seriously. I know I’m a metallist myself, but I love that genre. I love this movie because it’s about friendship and not fitting in, about peer pressure. And of course, the agonies of high school romance and all that stuff. And there’s some awesome cameos in it, from members of Judas Priest and Anthrax and Rage Against the Machine and Metallica. So, it’s a whole lot of fun. Yeah, check it out. It’s fun, Metal Lords.

And one more quick recommendation, I just read it before we jumped on this morning, a short essay by Matt Sheehan in Foreign Affairs, it’s called “The Chinese Way Of Innovation: What Washington Can Learn From Beijing About Investing In Tech.” Matt, as usual, gets it just right. It’s very, very smart. Please give that a read. Thank you so much. What a pleasure it was to have you both on.

Manjari: Thank you.

Manoj: Thank you. Thank you so much.

Manjari: Thank you, this was really fun.

Kaiser: Yeah, I look forward to seeing you guys again and let’s keep in touch.

The Sinica Podcast is powered by SupChina and is a proud part of the Sinica Network. Our show is produced and edited by me, Kaiser Kuo. We would be delighted if you would drop us an email at, or just give us a rating and a review on Apple Podcasts, as this really does help people discover the show. Meanwhile, follow us on Twitter or on Facebook at @supchinanews and be sure to check out all the shows in the Sinica Network. Thanks once more to Jude Blanchette for making this introduction. And thanks for listening, we’ll see you next week. Take care.