top of page

Navigating the Future - Unraveling the Strategic Cultures of India and China in the Global Landscape

In his impactful address during the concluding session of the meeting in 2012, newly-elected Chinese President Xi Jinping provided a sweeping perspective on China's modern history. Central to his vision was the establishment of ambitious goals, aiming to deepen reform, open up avenues, and achieve moderate prosperity across all facets of the country by the year 2020.

An Illustration on Strategic Cultures of India and China

Illustration by The Geostrata

The significance of President Xi's vision is further emphasized in both the Report to the 18th CPC National Congress and the Report on the Work of the Government delivered to the 12th National People's Congress. These documents make unequivocal the commitment of China to pursue peaceful development. This commitment, far from being a mere developmental strategy, serves as a solemn declaration of China's foreign policy.

China's own story of ascent and historical identity is in stark contrast. China sees its rise as leading to the restoration of the natural order of international relations, with China serving as the world's greatest economy and center of global power.

China considers its "century of humiliation" from the Opium War (1840–42) and subsequent political subordination and national fragmentation to be a historical aberration that must be addressed. The Chinese Communist Party, founded in 1921, has used this narrative as a guiding principle for the past century.

In the case of India, India was a self-sufficient, affluent civilization that stretched from Punjab and Sindh to the Himalayas, Bengal, and the ocean's coastlines. It was never an aggressive power because there was nothing to gain by expanding beyond its natural borders. Trade and cultural exchanges between the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea were mainly calm. India's only regular threats and invasions came from marauders from the northwest. As a result, the Indians adopted a defensive posture.

Today, India's foreign policy is primarily concerned with ensuring the country's security and territorial integrity, as well as a peaceful external environment for India. It is an integral and critical component of an overall strategy that serves national interests. It is an essential component of a comprehensive strategy for achieving national objectives and priorities such as social and economic growth and security preparedness. That is why India's foreign policy now places a greater focus on the economic component.

In a worldwide shifting kaleidoscope, a more optimistic and ambitious India under Narendra Modi is attempting to build a new paradigm for India's foreign policy, one in which India is not merely a 'balancer' or swing state,' but a 'leading state' seeking a seat at the global high table. It will have to be willing to take chances and sometimes pursue contrasting objectives.

The evolving global landscape anticipates a substantial shift in hegemonic influence from the United States to China. Within this paradigm, India emerges as a pivotal actor, drawing increasing attention from the West.  Recognized not merely for its economic prowess and developmental strides, India is increasingly perceived as a standard-bearer for constructing an inclusive and equitable world order.

The global comportment of India stands as a testament to its commitment to fostering international peace and prosperity. This commitment instills a sense of responsibility and accountability in India's actions on the global stage. In contrast, the intricacies of Chinese behavior are acknowledged, characterized by a degree of unpredictability. China's oscillation between assertion and accommodation is contingent upon shifts in its national interests and leadership dynamics.

Central to the discourse is an examination of the strategic cultures inherent in both nations. A comprehensive analysis of strategic culture aids in deciphering the underlying mindset that informs their policies, perceptions, and mutual expectations in regional and global geopolitical arenas.

In this light, the article endeavors to shed light on the strategic underpinnings shaping the trajectories of India and China, thereby contributing to a nuanced understanding of their roles in the emergent global order.


The PRC's conventional strategic thinking in the form of people's war, as well as its philosophical roots, may not appear to be relevant to current China's security requirements. However, given that civilizations do not change with time, particularly sophisticated cultures such as China, there must be some continuity between the past and the present. Its emphasis on territorial integrity stems from its location, history, and culture. It shares borders with 14 nations, four of which possess nuclear weapons.

A nuanced understanding of China's geopolitical evolution involves distinguishing between ancient China, characterized by a Confucian framework, and modern China post-1949, which adopts a more realpolitik-oriented stance.

The contemporary People's Republic of China (PRC) functions as a revolutionary dictatorship, demonstrating an assertive and expansionist orientation. This is evident in Chinese leader Mao's five-figure theory, which typifies the state's aggressive posture.

Underpinning this approach is a realpolitik perspective, framing conflict as an essential element in inter-state relations. The leadership of the PRC has historically employed aggressive military actions as a primary means to achieve national objectives, often justifying such endeavors as defensive measures. This behavior finds its roots not only in contemporary dynamics but also traces back to historical milestones such as the Great Wall and the Long March.


Centuries of peace and prosperity led to Indian complacency and pride. India has stagnated and ossified. That is why it was so readily overrun by invaders, both on land and at sea, in the second century. Unable to fight these intrusions, India's tolerant Hindu kings usually reached prudent settlements with invaders.

These invaders, along with their entourage of bureaucrats, businessmen, men of letters, artisans, and others, were integrated into Indian society and eventually became stakeholders in a peaceful, wealthy, and pluralistic India.

Mahatma Gandhi's ideology of nonviolence, moral behavior, and Satyagraha was based on India's moral, ethical, and intellectual traditions, including the Vedas, Ramayana, Mahabharata, and Lord Buddha's teachings.

As a result, it is not unexpected that non-alignment, anti-colonialism, anti-racism, nonviolence, disarmament, and peacemaking were the defining features of India's foreign policy in the first few decades after independence. Elegant paper formulations received more attention than substantive negotiation outcomes. Such sentiments persisted for many decades after Nehru.

Only under Prime Minister Modi has this deeply established approach begun to shift. India's foreign policy now is not hampered by dogma or sentimentality. India seeks allies and partners, but not as a supplicant or a vulnerable country that can be misled.


The analysis suggests a discernible shift in Chinese policies from reactive assertiveness to optimistic activism, transitioning from Deng Xiaoping's 'keeping a low profile and biding time' to Xi Jinping's 'strive for achievement.' This shift raises global concerns, particularly among China's neighbors. In contrast, India's policies have consistently avoided an expansionist approach, with the country being seen as a regional power. However, challenges persist in forging alliances with regional players.

Chinese literature indicates an absence of strategic contradiction with India, emphasizing commonalities with important neighbors and developing countries. Yet, India is rarely portrayed as a major power, and lingering stereotypes about casteism, poverty, and regionalism persist in Chinese writings.

India views China as a crucial factor, with cautious optimism in its strategic community regarding China's geopolitical moves. The current Indian leadership appears less sensitive to China's core interests, adopting a more competitive stance.

Despite the unsatisfactory recent developments in India-China relations, both nations perceive themselves as great civilizations. The need for a reassessment of basic perceptions and the cultivation of a new perspective for improved ties is evident.

This process necessitates research from the perspectives of both countries rather than relying solely on Western scholars. The study of India and China's strategic cultures has the potential to improve bilateral ties.

A more detailed picture can be acquired by examining the historical, cultural, and institutional aspects that define each country's approach to international relations. Identifying common interests, addressing key partnerships like China-Pakistan and India-USA, and focusing on shared concerns such as poverty and climate change can contribute to bridge-building efforts.





it is almost daily that i get fascinated with the the Strategic Cultures of India and China. So very profound, and if i may say, worrisome for the other side if applied with tact.


A good and insightful read

bottom of page