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India’s Foreign Policy Towards China: An Analysis

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Published: Tue, 06 Mar 2018




1. The making of foreign policy is an exercise to achieve ends and means of a nation state. Conceptually it is based on long term goals and related short term objectives. It is the product of past history, geography, evolving national power and prevalent international environment, which is largely out of country’s control[1].

2. Indian Foreign Policy towards China was initially based on idealism of Nehru, steered towards realism by Mrs Indira Gandhi, asserted by Rajiv Gandhi and culminated with India going overtly nuclear under Vajpayee in May 1998. From Hindi-Chini bhai bhai to potential enemy number one to great friend, India just does not know how to deal with its neighbourhood dragon that has played its cards so skilfully vis-à-vis India.

3. India’s dominant geostrategic location, vast natural and technological manpower resources, a vibrant emerging economy backed by strong military and nuclear capability, visible soft power and presence of the Indian Diaspora the world over, make it an ideal candidate to be a major player in the world in general and South Asian region in particular.

4. India and China are the two major powers in Asia with global aspirations and some significant conflicting interests. As a result, some amount of friction in their bilateral relationship is inevitable. The geopolitical reality of Asia makes sure that it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for Hindi-Chini to be bhai-bhai (brothers) in the foreseeable future. If India and China continue to rise in the next few years, a security competition between the two regional giants will be all but inevitable. If India is serious about its desire to emerge as a major global power, then it will have to tackle the challenge of China’s rise. A rising China will not tolerate a rising India as its peer competitor. Even if a rising India does not have any intention of becoming a regional hegemon, China will try its best to constrain India as it has already done to a large extent. And it is that containment that India has to guard against. India should make a serious attempt to manage the frictions by expanding the zone of cooperation with allies even as it tries to steadfastly pursue its national interests.

5. Indian foreign policy agenda should be driven by only India’s national security imperatives. India needs to be more pro-active, consistent, and realistic when engaging China. It is time for India to realise that Its great power aspirations cannot be realised without a cold-blooded realistic assessment of its own strategic interests in an anarchic international system where there are no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests.

6. It would be prudent to look, into the wisdom of Kautilya’s , Arthashastra, a treatise on polity and statecraft to learn the lessons on war and strategy , national power and national security and threat perception and threat assessment.

Statement of Problem

7. To study Kautilya’s thoughts on strategy and analyse its relevance to the present day Indian Geo-political environment with particular regards to China.

Justification of the Study

8. Kautilya’s Arthashastra has been recognised the world over as an invaluable treatise on all facets of statecraft and polity. Its eternal wisdom and timelessness can be gauged from the fact that it is still quoted by scholars, academicians, bureaucrats and soldiers alike the world over. The interest generated in this epic illustrates that the thoughts on strategy to sustain and advance a state still provides valuable lessons. The twentieth century which has seen two world wars of long duration and host of other conflicts worldwide has also generated a fairly large number of studies on strategy commensurate with the advances in technology and new methods in warfare. But there is certain universality about classical strategic thoughts which prompts academics and scholars to go back to these works both in terms of comparative analysis and their reinterpretation in the changing world.

9. Strategy over the ages has been defined in different ways reflective of the times in which they were made and the existing interstate relations and economic and social state of a nation. Higher or Grand strategy is hardly understood nor does it seem to have been practised in India. It is therefore important to study the various facets of this vital subject as propounded by Kautilya in his Arthashastra, as it is so critical for the existence and security of a nation.


10. The Arthashastra is a compendium on various aspects of statecraft and lays down measures to be followed by a king to sustain and advance a state. The contents of this treatise are very exhaustive covering a broad spectrum to include the minor details at one end to grand strategy on the other. However this study concentrates on the various facets of stratagem enunciated by Kautilya and analyse their relevance to modern India particularly with regards to China

Method of Data Collection

11. All the information for this study has been gathered from various books (refer bibliography) and internet.


12. Background. Kautilya’s Arthashastra is an excellent treatise on statecraft, economic policy and military strategy. It is said to have been written by Kautilya, also known by the name Chanakya or Vishnugupta, the prime minister of India’s first great emperor, Chandragupta Maurya. This chapter will include the following:-

(a) Authenticity and date of Arthashastra.

(b) Historical account of life of Kautilya.

13. Kautilya’s Foreign Policy. In Interstate relations power constitutes the ability of a nation to impose its will on another nation despite resistance. This Chapter will include:-

(a) Saptanga concept of state. Kautilya’s theory of the state describes the seven constituent elements of any state[2] and is an exposition of the theory of the Circle of States (The mandala theory) as the basis for a foreign policy of expansion by conquest. The seven constituents are the basis of the national power and happiness. He then relates as to how national power varies due to expansion or calamities and how pursuance of national interest is directly related to the possession of national power.

(b) Postulates of foreign policy. As a political realist, Kautilya assumed that every nation acts to maximize power and self-interest, and therefore moral principles or obligations have little or no force in actions among nations[3]. Kautilya’s postulates on foreign policy international relations, national security to include internal and external security, war waging methodology to include Mantrayuddha or War by Counsel, Prakasayuddha or Open War, kutayuddha or Concealed War, Gudayuddha or Clandestine War.

14. Mandala Concept as the Basis of National Strategy. Kautilya, says that the the aggressor (Vijigishu), should conclude, peace when he finds that he is weaker than the enemy[4]; he should wage war when he finds himself to be stronger; he should adopt neutrality when assesses that neither he nor his enemy can settle the score; he should seek refuge when he is weak; and he should adopt the duel policy in a contingency requiring the help from, another ruler. War and foreign policy issues are thus decided in an ad hoc framework of political expediency. When progress is equally attainable by means of peace and war, Kautilya says that the former is to be preferred. This is so, for war involves expenditure in men and money, residence in a foreign land, and suffering.This chapter will include the following:-

(a) Mandala Theory. Kautilya believed that countries which shared a common border were natural enemies. However, any state on the other side of that enemy is a natural choice for an ally for they, too, are at risk from the same enemy. In other words, he believed in the principle of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” The idea is best envisioned by a series of concentric circles (not a normal configuration of states, admittedly, but easier to describe), which actually makes them look a bit like a mandala.

(b) Potential enemies. “A neighboring prince possessed of the excellences of an enemy is the foe; one in calamity is vulnerable; one without support or with weak support is fit to be exterminated; in the reverse case, fit to be harassed or weakened. These are the different types of enemies[5].”

(c) Alliances. A perfect ally is said to have six qualities,namely, constant, under control, quickly mobilising, hereditary, great and not given to double dealing.

(d) The six measures of foreign policy. Kautilya however believes that there are spin-offs of these, thus providing six methods of foreign policy. These are making peace, waging war, staying quiet, preparing for war, seeking support, and the dual policy of making peace with one while waging war against another[6]. One’s circumstances will dictate which methods should be used.

15. Application of Mandala Theory in the Contemporary Indian geo-political Scenario. This Chapter will include the classification of friends, enemies, potential enemies, and likely allies on the basis of Mandala theory.

16. Implication of China’s Rise in Indian Perspective. This chapter will include the following:-

(a) China’s comprehensive strategy.

(b) Chinese Balance of power strategy in Asia.

(c) Chinese economic Strategy.

(d) China’s encirclement policy.

(e) Relationship with India’s neighbours.

(f) China’s perception of India.

(g) India’s perception of China.

(h) Implication of China’s strategy on India’s security.

17. Application of Kautilyan Wisdom in Sino-Indian Relation’s. This chapter will include the following:-

(a) Chinese critical vulnerabilities.

(b) Indian options to counter Chinese threat.

(c) Suggested Indian Strategy against China.

“Miraculous results can be achieved by practising the methods of subversion”.

– Kautilya


1. Kautilya, also known as Chanakya [7]or Vishnugupta, was an Indian statesman and philosopher who lived around 350 B.C.E. He is one of the most famous Indian political thinkers who participated in the social and political revolutions of his age. Though he lived a long time ago, certain principles from his theory are still relevant in today’s context. His most famous work is Arthashastra, translated differently by various authors, but in its most acceptable meaning, the “science of political economy[8].” The book, written in Sanskrit, discusses theories and principles of governing a state. Arthashastra remains unique in all of Indian literature because of its unabashed advocacy of realpolitik. Indian scholars continued to study it for its clear-cut arguments and formal prose till the twelfth century. After that period it lost its significance. It has again become the focus of attention of thinkers who want to see a change in the Indian foreign policy[9].

2. Kautilya was a Brahmin minister under Chandragupta Maurya[10], the first king of the great Mauryan Empire in India. The empire was the largest and most powerful political and military empire of ancient India. It was founded in 321 B.C.E. by Chandragupta Maurya[11], who had overthrown the Nanda Dynasty and begun expanding his power across central and western India. The Empire stretched to the North along the natural boundaries of the Himalayas, and to the east stretching into what is now Assam. To the West, it reached beyond modern Pakistan and included Baluchistan in Persia and significant portions of what is now Afghanistan, including the modern Herat and Kandahar provinces.

3. Many call Kautilya the first political realist in the world.[12] His work differed from existing political theory in that it talked about ways of running the administration which were based more on self interest than on morality. The frank and brutal advice he offers the king in his treatise makes Machiavelli’s “The Prince” seem mild.[13] There are four different characteristics of a realist approach to international relations:[14]

(a) The assumption that human nature is aggressive.

(b) The belief that international relations will always be characterized by conflict.

(c) The belief that the foremost goal of the king shall be the protection of the state and its people.

(d) The belief that the state must be strong politically, economically, and militarily so as to minimize the possibility of an attack.

4. He thus talked about balance of power before this term was actually invented.[15] He said that the king should consider all his neighbors as his enemies and that any state on the opposite side of a neighbor is a potential ally. So, if countries were in a line, countries 1, 3, 5, 7 could be friends, as could 2, 4, and 6. But countries 1, 2, and 3 could never be friends. This status would change as soon as country 1 conquered country 2. From that very instant country 3 (a friend) would be the new enemy. This is called his ‘mandala theory.'[16]

5. It is necessary to bear in mind that the Arthashastra, “the science of wealth and warfare,” was just discovered and translated in the past century in Mysore by R. Shamasastry[17], and that until then, there was no knowledge of any such compilation, despite scant allusions made to an “Arthashastra,” and its alternative names “Nitisastra” and “Dandaniti,” in the Mahabharata[18].Thomas Trautmann dates the text to c.150 A.D. and, through rigorous statistical analysis, he concludes that the Arthashastra had several authors spanning a wide range of dates,[19] which adds to the puzzle of how historically obscure the text has been for over the past two millennia. Nevertheless, its secretive nature adds credence to its function as a handbook on efficient statecraft for kings and high-level ministers.

6. Artha has always been regarded as one of the four purusharthas,[20] yet its teachings have been relegated to animal fables and folklore. No such shastras seem to have been compiled for public knowledge, as was the case of the Dharmashastras and Kamashastras. In stark contrast to the latter, the manuscript discovered in 1902 by Shamasastry was compiled as a guidebook for kings and high-level officials, rather than the average individual. The result is a perspective advocating a top-down style of governance with little or no representation held by the general populace, and the continual maintenance of such a state with energetic leadership and extensive secret service. Though the king and upper echelons of society involuntarily accepted such authority because of religious ideals just as much as the general populace did, the Arthashastra suggests the existence of a small elite with a secular and realist outlook that actively worked to uphold this power scheme and determine the overall course of the kingdom.[21]

7. It is for this reason that the Arthashastra advocates reordering the priorities of the purusharthas, by valuing materialism over religion and morality.[22] Similarly, R.P. Kangle notes that “these ideals are meant for individuals” and that the conduct of public life was not to be guided by these rules for individual morality[23]. Management of the state necessitated realism, not idealism. It required the prudence and precise calculation of measures undertaken alongside their short and long-term consequences, which formulated the theoretical beginnings of economics: “Wealth will slip away from that childish man who constantly consults the stars: the only [guiding] star of wealth is itself; what can the stars of the sky do? Man, without wealth, does not get it even after a hundred attempts. Just as elephants are needed to catch elephants, so does wealth capture more wealth[24].” Public welfare was contingent upon the strength of the state. The latter was achieved by internal development or territorial expansion, both of which were realized through power[25].

8. The Arthashastra regards both economics and foreign policy as zero-sum games: the state would need to prosper economically lest it be overtaken by wealthier imperialist neighbors or suffer from internal rebellion by discontented government officials and military leaders. Furthermore, internal development would naturally lead to population growth and would eventually necessitate expansion, which is why L.N. Rangarajan notes that “the aim of creating a well-run state is to provide the base for expansion. Continuing with this logic, Kautilya deals in Book 7 with all the theoretical possibilities of conducting an expansionist foreign policy.”[26] Hence, the prime motive of the state was the never-ending pursuit of artha. It is only after dedicating its energies to this end can the state or king then move on to fulfilling dharma and kama.

9. This Arthashastra is primarily a book of political realism where State is paramount and King shall carry out duties as advised in his book to preserve his state. For Kautilya, military strategy was an integral part of the science of polity[27] and he made no distinction between military techniques and statecraft. Kautilya’s work is so deep rooted in realism that he goes to describe the gory and brutal means a King must adopt to be in power. This could have been one reason why Ashoka, the grandson of Chandragupta Maurya whom Kautilya advised renounced violence and war thus taking the path of Dharma or Morals.

10. I will also be making a few references to the other books of Arthashatra where topics of Management have been dealt with. The areas covered under Management include – training, management education, leadership skills, selection of employees, consultation, crisis management, risk management, strategic management, corporate governance, information systems, intelligence network, competition, mergers and acquisitions, etc. among many others.

11. There are a large of theories as to who Chanakya, or Kautilya or Vishnugupta , was. Kautilya was an enigmatic whose origin is shrouded in mystery. However, all sources of Indian tradition – Brahmin, Buddhist and Jain – agree that Kautilya destroyed the Nanda dynasty and installed Chandragupta Maurya on the throne of Magadha.

12. One theory about his origin is that Chanakya was a Kerala Brahmin who somehow reached the court of the Nanda king at Pataliputra[28]. The next theory is that Chanakya was a North Indian Brahmin born and educated in Taxila[29] and that he was physically ugly, had a disgusting complexion and his limbs were deformed. As per Jain tradition, his parents noticed that Chanakya was born with full set of teeth, a mark of future king. They had the teeth removed as either parent did not want him to become a King . He became a King maker instead.

13. At a very early age little Chanakya started studying Vedas. He later also studied politics and economics. As a student and later a professor, the University of Taxila became Chanakya’s breeding ground of acquiring knowledge in the practical and theoretical aspects on all walks of life. However, with the Greek armies of Selucus threatening to invade India, and the various kingdoms in the subcontinent on the verge of war and aggression with each other, Chanakya left the university at Taxila, and proceeded in his own words to strengthen the country politically and economically and to save the country from the clutches of foreign invaders.

14. In Magadha, Chanakya was insulted by the King of Patliputra, Dhana Nanda and he vowed to destroy the Nanda dynasty. He came upon Chandragupta and together, Chanakya and Chandragupta set about attacking the Nanda kingdom until finally Chandragupta was installed as the king of Magadha[30]. According to written tradition, Chanakya was a fearless person, not afraid of death, disgrace or defeat. He was compassionate of the poor and evil to schemers.

15. Chanakya then retired from active life and reflected on all that he had learnt during the process of overthrowing Dhana Nanda. Since he found the earlier works on statecraft[31] unsatisfactory in many respects, he composed his own definitive work presenting his ideas concerning the ways in which a ruler should gain power and maintain his authority. For Chanakya, military strategy was an integral part of the science of polity and he made no distinction between military techniques and statecraft. Thus came into being the ‘Arthashastra’. There is no doubt that this treatise is the work of a genius, who spoke of matters which have held relevance down the ages to contemporary times with striking infallibility. The military writings of Chanakya precede those of Machiavelli and Clausewitz by centuries but seldom has this fact been acknowledged much less credited outside India.

“The king who understands the interdependence of the six methods of foreign policy, plays, as he pleases, with other rulers bound to him by the chains of his intellect”.

– Kautilya

Saptanga Concept Of State

16. Kautilya’s theory of the state describes the seven constituent elements of any state[32] and is an exposition of the theory of the Circle of States (The mandala theory) as the basis for a foreign policy of expansion by conquest. Of the seven elements, six (the King, the ministers, the people, the fortified city, the Treasury and the army) are internal elements; only the ally is an element outside the borders. The structure and organization of the six internal elements of a well ordered state are fully developed and explained by Kautilya in books I to 5. The aim of creating a well-run state is to provide the base for expansion. Continuing this logic, Kautilya in Book 7 deaIs with all theoretical possibilities of conducting an expansionist foreign policy. Before a King actually sets out on an expedition of conquest he has to take steps to guard himself against the dangers which might weaken any of constituent elements of his own state. Kautilya uses the word calamity’ (vyasana) in the precise sense of any event which weakens any constituent element of a state, thereby preventing it from being to its full potential in the conduct of foreign policy or war[33].

17. This theory in one form or another (in part, as “elements of national power”), has survived to this very day as a mainstay of reflection and analysis of international politics. Kautilya enumerates the desirable qualities each of these elements should display and points out, too, that his list of elements is arranged in descending order of importance: each succeeding element is less important than the one before it, the king being most important of all. A ruler who possesses the elements of state and who wisely takes care of them “will never be defeated,” he says, and then devotes the whole of Book VIII[34] to a systematic analysis of the “troubles and calamities” which might befall each one of these elements (in other words, to their ‘malfunctioning’).

18. The king is the focal point of analysis; he strives to maintain and improve his position knowing that the determinants of status in international society are two: “power” and “happiness”: The possession of power and happiness in a greater degree makes a king superior to another; in a lesser degree, inferior; and in an equal degree, equal. Hence a king shall always endeavour to augment his power and elevate his happiness.

19. Neither ‘power’ nor ‘happiness’ is clearly or exhaustively defined or analysed. We know, however, that ‘power’ is to be understood as ‘strength’ and that it has three components[35]:-

(a) Mantrashakti; Power of counsel, deliberation or decision-making, including capacity for intrigue.

(b) Prabhushakti; The treasury and the army.

(c) Utsahashakti; Resolve and determination.

20. Thus power refers essentially to activity and application of the elements of the state, just mentioned. Happiness on the other hand is that which can be attained by the use of power. It is to some degree a measure of success of foreign policy and the implementation of its objectives, but it also indicates those qualities such as righteousness and also internal stability and not power alone that enter into the determination of international status.

21. A king’s position is not, however, unchanging; his status relative to another king is variable and needs continuous attention. A king prevents deterioration in his position and secures an improvement (a desire for which is a built-in feature of the system) in two ways: by attention to the elements of his power, and by external action. Kautilya enjoins the ruler to pursue power investment: a wise king adopts policies that add to the resources of his country and enable him “to build forts, to construct buildings and commercial roads, to open new plantations and villages, to exploit mines and timber and elephant forests, and at the same time to harass similar works of the enemy”[36]. Status is also obviously affected by successes in military and other fields, but the king is cautioned to rely on strengthening his own power before embarking upon foreign adventures. According to Kautilya, and here is one of the more interesting portions of his analysis, the king’s status read national power determines his foreign policy. That policy differs according to whether it is directed toward kings who are superior, inferior or equal to him. The bulk of the international portions of the Arthashastra are a discussion of the policies that may be appropriately pursued by ‘superior’ or ‘inferior’ kings[37].
Postulates Of Foreign Policy

22. As a political realist, Kautilya assumed that every nation acts to maximize power and self-interest, and therefore moral principles or obligations have little or no force in actions among nations[38]. While it is good to have an ally, the alliance will last only as long as it is in that ally’s as well as one’s own self-interest, because “an ally looks to the securing of his own interests in the event of simultaneity of calamities and in the event of the growth of the enemy’s power[39].” Whether one goes to war or remains at peace depends entirely upon the self-interest of, or advantage to, one’s kingdom: “War and peace are considered solely from the point of view of profit.” One keeps an ally not because of good will or moral obligation, but because one is strong and can advance one’s own self-interest as well as the self-interest of the ally, for “when one has an army, one’s ally remains friendly, or (even) the enemy becomes friendly.”[40] Because nations always act in their political, economic, and military self-interest, even times of peace have the potential to turn abruptly into times of war, allies into enemies, and even enemies into allies. Kautilya probably assumed that peaceful empires cannot last forever, and that conflict among smaller states is more common in history.

23. For Kautilya, this principle of foreign policy that nations act in their political, economic, and military self-interest was a timeless truth of his science of politics, or arthasastra. He did not believe that nations never act in an altruistic manner indeed, Kautilya advocated humanitarian acts that also coincided with one’s self-interest but he did believe that one must assume, if entrusted with political or military power that one’s neighbours will eventually act in their own interests. Put another way, one would be betraying one’s own people if one did not assume a worst-case scenario. A nation forced to rely on the kindness of neighbouring states is weak and, unless it can change rapidly, doomed to destruction.

24. Arthashastra is concerned with the security and foreign policy needs of a small state, in an environment with numerous other small states. The scope for enlargement of this small state was limited to the Indian subcontinent. The area extending from the Himalayas in the north to the sea in the south and a thousand yojanas[41] wide from East to West is the area of operation of the King-Emperor'[42]. Territories beyond the subcontinent are not included, probably for the reason that the conqueror is expected to establish in the conquered territories a social order based on the Arya’s dharma, varna and ashrama system. Kautilya perhaps considered the establishment of such a social order outside the limits of India impractical or even undesirable[43].

25. The guiding principles which govern the Kautilyan theory of foreign policy are[44]:-

(a) A king shall develop his state, i.e., augment its resources and power in order to enable him to embark on a campaign of conquest;

(b) The enemy shall be eliminated;

(c) Those who help are friends;

(d) A prudent course shall always be adopted;

(e) Peace is to be preferred to war; and

(f) A king’s behaviour, in victory and in defeat, must be just.

26. The first verse of {6.2}, ‘Sama vyayamau yogakshemayoryonih’ ‘The welfare of a state [ensuring the security of the state within its existing boundaries and acquiring new territory to enlarge it] depends on adopting a policy of non-intervention or overt action’ – establish the basis for all foreign policy.

27. This non-intervention, a method designed to build up confidence between kings, is to be understood in a specialized sense. It is not a policy of doing nothing but the deliberate choice of a policy of keeping away from foreign entanglements, in order to enjoy the fruits of past acquisitions by consolidating them.

28. Vyayama, (industry or activity) implies an active foreign policy, Yoga, the objective of enlargement of one’s power and influence, and, through these, one’s territory. These are the two stages of policy. Both depend on the state making progress, either materially in terms of its treasury and army or diplomatically in terms of its relations with other states.

29. The problem of defence of a state is intimately bound up with the question of its foreign relations. It is from hostile states that the state needs to be defended. Foreign relations are mainly discussed from the stand point of the “Vijigisu”[45]. In other words, it seeks to show how a state, desirous of extending its influence and expanding its territory, should conduct its relations with foreign states. A state’s position is determined by its relative progress or relative decline vis-a-vis other states in the neighbourhood.

30. The most important of a king’s neighbours is the ‘enemy’. Among the states surrounding a kingdom, there is always one who is the natural enemy. Presumably, this is the one neighbour who has designs on the king and, in the absence of any action, will be out to attack the king. The other neighbours may be hostile (aribhavi), friendly (mitrabhavi) or vassal (bhrityabhavi). There may also be a small buffer state between the king and the enemy (antardih). However, the main target of the conqueror is always the designated natural enemy; ‘one cannot make peace with an enemy'[46]. The reason for many aspects of the analysis of foreign policy being couched in terms of the conqueror out manoeuvring the enemy, is that the enemy is also the target of the diplomacy of the conqueror. When the conditions are ripe, a military campaign will be undertaken against him.

31. Allies are important; in fact, allies are described as a ‘constituent element of a state’, the only external constituent. An alliance is based on giving help. “A friend is ever a well-wisher”[47]. Kautilya gives us a comprehensive analysis of the type of kings with whom an alliance is desirable and the types of allies based on their character and motivation.

32. Since prudence should always govern choice of policy, Kautilya is against both spineless submission and foolhardy valour[48]. Therefore, peace should always be preferred to war: ‘When the degree of progress is the same in pursu

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