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India’s Foreign Policy Options: An Analysis of the One China Policy

Written by Sambhrant Das

Third Year, Integrated Masters (MA) in Political Science, University of Hyderabad, India

Disclaimer: Please note that the views expressed below represent the opinions of the article's author. The following does not necessarily represent the views of Law & Order.


The recent aggressive posturing by China concerning its geopolitical and territorial ambitions has made its neighbors wary of its intentions in the present and the near future. This has reshaped and reignited the debate around the need for countries, including India to undertake a systematic review of the merits of its support for the One China Policy. This is a diplomatic acknowledgment of China’s position that there exist only one Chinese government and an assertion of its legitimacy over the territory it governs. A review of the aforesaid policy should be undertaken through the prism of Realpolitik [1].

The fact that China is now involved in border disputes, including maritime boundaries with 21 countries has not gone unnoticed in Indian diplomatic circles [2].

It is thus imperative to understand the contestation in China as well as the significance of the One China Policy with respect to India.

China: The Red Dragon

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) was founded on October 1, 1949, in the backdrop of the Republic of China (ROC) government retreating to the province of Taiwan while facing imminent defeat. The ROC governed by the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party of China) was founded in 1919 by Sun Yat-Sen and Song Jiaoren (Dev, 2009). The One-China Policy was formulated in the aftermath of the Kuomintang’s relocation and initially only applied to Taiwan. According to the Economic Times, the PRC initiated a diplomatic reshuffle by abolishing existing relations and establishing new ones. Burma, Pakistan, and India were amongst the first countries to publicly articulate their support for ‘One China’, with India stating that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China. Since then till the present times, China considers the principle as sacrosanct and one of the integral pillars of its foreign policy. The solemn acceptance of One China is an essential prerequisite for diplomatic relations in the PRC’s handbook. Countries that are considered as otherwise neutral in world affairs had to face the repercussions of its coercive economic sanctions [3]. For instance, Indonesia and Canada are examples of two nations among many others that play a neutral role in the world order but have had to face the ire of the Chinese Communist Party for not complying with its terms and conditions on specific issues. The term ‘One China Principle’ is exclusively used by China in all its official communications, as articulated in the 1992 Consensus. Under this, both Taiwan and China agree that there is only one sovereign state encompassing both the regions but are in disagreement over which of the two governments is the legitimate representative of the aforesaid state.

What is India’s stance on the One China Policy since independence?

Throughout most of India’s independent history, India has refused to bristle China’s feathers and played it safe by refusing to comment on China’s repeated interference in the internal affairs of India. This was evident in China's provocative statements on India’s internal affairs such as the granting of statehood to Arunachal Pradesh in 1987 to the recent revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status by the abrogation of Article 370 have been met with a tepid response instead of strong condemnation on India’s part. This traditional reluctance to confront China head-on, in hindsight, was also influenced by the relative superiority of the Chinese Communist Party’s military wing - the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). A series of foreign policy gaffes such as the unconditional recognition of Tibet as an autonomous region of China in 1954 and the misplaced belief in Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai’s charm offensive in 1960 also compounded India’s woes. However, India has today transformed into one of the fastest-growing economies in the world by enhancing it’s conventional and military capabilities by leaps and bounds. The reassuring and confident reassertion of its stated position vis-à-vis China’s churlish claims under the helm of Prime Minister Modi and External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar is a long-overdue step in the right direction. Post-2014, the twin planks of mutual respect and reciprocity have guided Indo-China relations. This assumes even greater significance in light of the recent deadly border clashes between the two countries’ forces in Galwan on June 15. The unprecedented intrusion by the Chinese forces runs antithetical to the ‘Wuhan spirit’ [4] and is unequivocally condemned by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh as it is detrimental to India’s regional stability and peace [5]. Henry Kissinger while commenting on the new World Order had said, “China’s military and political shadow will fall over Asia, affecting the calculations of the other powers. The other Asian nations are likely to seek counterweights to an increasingly powerful China.” From Kissinger’s statement, it can be assumed that China is seeking to deflect world attention away from the coronavirus pandemic. Xi Jinping is also upping the rhetoric of nationalism to divert the attention of his domestic constituency away from the twin failures seen under his governance - managing and containing the spread of the outbreak and coping with the successive steady decline of the economy [6].

Taming the Dragon: The need for a comprehensive relook at the One China Policy

At this climacteric juncture, it is in India’s interest to gain the leverage vis-à-vis its bilateral relationship with China. President Xi’s security measures along with a strong reiteration of ideology have triggered unprecedented resentment against him from all quarters within China - party members, Government officials, cadres, student protests in universities, and even the Supreme Court.

Firstly, India must initiate its multi-fold approach by seeking reciprocity from China for backing the One China policy unequivocally – the need for sensitivity in the dealings between both countries should be made amply clear.

India must look to support the One China Policy on a mutual understanding that benefits both the parties, the reason being this would maintain peace and stability in bilateral relations that would propel economic development as a result. This is the first step towards a comprehensive relook as China has not reciprocated in equal measure to India’s noninterference in its internal affairs. Only if this measure is unsuccessful should India proceed to the next steps.

Secondly, India should undertake a reassessment of its relations vis-à-vis Taiwan and Tibet. It must work in close coordination and concurrence.

The Tibetans and the Taiwanese share close cultural links with India since ancient times with the people from the latter community given refuge in India as a goodwill gesture. The people of both regions are also strongly supportive of India’s intentions and are willing to offer wholehearted support in its battle against Chinese expansionism [7]. India’s raison d'être is its multiethnicity and pluralism while China’s inability to create an equitable space for its minorities is its Achilles heel, characterized by a Han-dominated society. Thus, there is room for cooperation and collaboration in this field. Also, India must be proactive in offering logistical and moral support to other dissidents of Chinese occupation such as Uighurs, Manchus, South Mongols, Hong Kong citizens, and the indigenous groups inhabiting Yunnan province. It should facilitate the activities of leaders of these regions, thereby sending out a strong message to China, that is, not complying with international norms of diplomatic conduct such as The Law of the Sea, trade and intellectual property norms, and human rights protection laws along with non-adherence to a ‘One India’ policy guaranteeing the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Indian state can be and will be met with a befitting response by a new resurgent India. New avenues of cooperation with the ASEAN countries ought to be explored in the aftermath of China’s militarization of the South China Sea. The strengthening of the Act Easy Policy has the potential to be one of India’s best options in counterpoising China’s assertive influence. India's relationship with ASEAN is a key pillar of its foreign policy and the foundation of its Act East Policy. The prime example of this is the invitation to the leaders of ASEAN as Guest of Honour in India’s 69th Republic Day. Furthermore, India has also invested in its relations with the US and Japan by being a member of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) arrangement since 2007. This involves regular military drills and informal summits as confidence-building measures. The inclusion of Australia in the Malabar exercises is another advantageous plank for India to pursue its interests in the region without compromising on its strategic autonomy.

Thirdly, China’s ‘Wolf-Warrior Diplomacy’ [8] must be countered by India through swift diplomatic maneuvers.

This must include the completion of infrastructure projects such as the building of dams, construction of libraries, and funding of affordable housing projects to name a few in friendly countries like Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, and various African nations. This can be achieved by adhering to a timeline and playing a greater role in world affairs by attempting to establish a credible rules-based order. An evolving consensus suggests that the world now distrusts China – several countries have been engulfed in a debt trap for the execution of development projects and companies are looking to exit from the country in the aftermath of the pandemic with its associated consequences. India must tap into this potential by devising its national power on the lines of the principles elucidated in Kautilya’s Arthashastra – Mantrashakti (intellectual power), Prabhavshakti (physical power) and Utsahshakti (power of morale) [9]. This three-pronged strategy backed by an increase in bilateral cooperation would be an effective tool to renegotiate the terms of engagement with China.

India's rising global power has made it imperative for the country to assist its counterparts in need on humanitarian grounds. Its assistance to countries across the globe through the supply of the drug hydroxychloroquine has been acclaimed as a gamechanger in the fight against the pandemic and a classic case study in the use of soft power for achieving one’s policy objectives. The need of the hour is to widen the ambit of such initiatives to cement India’s position as a sensitive and accommodative global power that has its interests enshrined in the collective progress of humankind.


The Indian experience of dealing with China bilaterally and in multilateral fora is a testimony for it to go full throttle on innovation and execution of all projects that concern its national security – cyber field, telecommunications, border infrastructure, and military hardware. China’s period of peaceful rise as adopted by Hu Jintao is now over. This calls for India to neither permit the upending of the multilateral order nor allowing it to be encapsulated in Chinese diktat.

India must use its balancing power stemming from a dynamic economy, strong democratic credentials, and the strategic advantage of maritime geography to counterpoise China [10].

By reappraising its stance on One China Policy and in the spirit of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, purposeful bonds of friendship can be drawn. Aurobindo’s vision of a world-union forming the outer basis of a fairer, brighter, and nobler life for all mankind with India at the helm is the necessity of the moment.


[1] Realpolitik refers to a system of politics or principles based on practical rather than moral or ideological considerations.

[2] China has 17 territorial disputes with its neighbors.

[3] China pressured Norway to adhere to One China Policy in 2018 among countless other examples.

[4] Wuhan Spirit refers to the consensus reached by India and China in the aftermath of the Wuhan summit in 2018. It showed that India and China moved towards preserving their diplomatic relationship despite their differences, ensuring that the differences don’t turn into disputes.

[5] Defence Minister Rajnath Singh reiterated India’s non-compromise with its sovereignty and territorial integrity in a meeting with troops in Ladakh.

[6] Gordon Chang said Xi Xinping is a prisoner of his image in an interview with India Today.

[7] A Taiwanese media outlet created a caricature of Lord Ram slaying a dragon. Available at

[8] China’s aggressive behavior has been explained through a metaphor of a popular Chinese language film.

[9] See Kajari Kamal’s paper on ‘Kautilya’s Arthashastra: Indian Strategic Culture and Grand Strategic Preferences’. Available at

[10] The retired Indian Foreign Service officer Nirupama Rao makes this observation in an editorial published in The Hindu.


  1. Bhalla, A. (2020, July 17). No power in the world can take an inch of our land. India Today.

  2. Chaudhury, D. R. (2020, July 3). “Rethink India’s One-China Policy.” The Economic Times.

  3. China is attacking India because Xi has no one to blame for his failures: Gordon G Chang. (2020, June 28). India Today Web Desk.

  4. Deol, T. (2020, June 18). ‘We conquer, we kill’: Taiwan cartoon showing Lord Rama slay Chinese dragon goes viral. The Print.

  5. Dev, A., & Dev, I. A. (2009). History of the World: From the Late Nineteenth to the Early Twenty-First Century. Orient Blackswan.

  6. India will never be a part of an alliance system, says External Affairs Minister Jaishankar. (2020, July 20). The Hindu.

  7. Kamal, K. (2018). Kautilya’s Arthashastra: Indian Strategic Culture and Grand Strategic Preferences. Journal of Defence Studies12(3), 27–54.

  8. Krishnan, A. (2012, October 25). Crossing the point of no return. The Hindu.

  9. Krishnankutty, P. (2020, July 15). Not just India, Tibet — China has 17 territorial disputes with its neighbors, on land & sea. ThePrint.

  10. Kissinger, H. (1995). Diplomacy (Touchstone Book) (Reprint ed.). Simon & Schuster.

  11. Ladwa, M. (2020, March 12). India’s infrastructure on a slow, yet steady road. India Inc Group.

  12. Mazumdar, J. (2019, August 21). India To China: ‘We’ll Respect One China Policy If You Back One India.’ Swarajyamag.

  13. Mehta, J. (2020, June 17). China’s growing threat via debt-trap diplomacy. Livemint.

  14. Olsson, J. (2017, January 15). China Forces Norway to Adhere to One China Policy. Taiwan Sentinel.

  15. Singh, K. (2015, May 05). Why no Indian visa for Dolkun Isa? Livemint.

  16. Stilwell, D. (2020, July 14). The South China Sea, Southeast Asia’s Patrimony, and Everybody’s Own Backyard. U.S. Department of State.

  17. Zhu, Z. (2020, May 15). Interpreting China’s ‘Wolf-Warrior Diplomacy’. The Diplomat.

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