China and India have more similarities in their nuclear stances than is commonly recognized, yet some core differences remain. Mapping this convergence and divergence is essential to expanding bilateral cooperation. In the eleventh event of the “Arms Control Seminar Series” and the sixteenth installment of the “China-South Asia Dialogues” seminar series, Gu Guoliang, director of the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Monika Chansoria, senior fellow at the Centre for Land Warfare Studies in New Delhi, and Carnegie’s Lora Saalman assembled to chart the future of Sino-Indian strategic stability and to offer suggestions on confidence-building measures.

Creating the Foundation

Gu noted the relative lack of a strategic exchange between Beijing and New Delhi on nuclear issues, particularly when compared with China and the United States. As a first step toward closing this gap, Gu provided an overview of similarities and differences between China and India:

  • Similarities:

    • Credible Minimum Deterrence
    • No First Use (NFU)
    • Negative Security Assurances (NSA)
    • De-mated and de-alerted weapons
    • Pursuit of regional and global status
    • Independent and non-aligned
  • Differences:

    • Nuclear status
    • Strategic nuclear policies
    • Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty
    • Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty
    • Strategic ties with the United States
    • Security concerns vis-à-vis Pakistan
    • Bilateral threat perceptions and competition
    • Conditionality of Negative Security Assurances and No First Use
    • Clarity of nuclear posture and doctrine

Structuring the Dialogues

Saalman cautioned against taking similarities at face value without evaluating the underlying differences. She addressed some areas of convergence that Gu cited, exploring divergences and offering a structure for dialogues.

  • Credible Minimum Deterrence: While India and China ostensibly both use credible minimum deterrence to describe their postures, explained Saalman, there are differences in application. Indian experts speak of a dynamic form of deterrence, implying that India’s posture is subject to change based on technological and security demands, she said. Chinese experts use the terms “minimum deterrence” and “limited deterrence” at times interchangeably, and some Indian experts describe Beijing’s approach towards New Delhi as the latter. One of the Chinese participants distinguished between minimum deterrence and self-defense. He maintained that the latter is passive and serves as China’s posture, while the former is proactive and held by India, he said.
  • No First Use (NFU): Saalman cited Indian concerns that China might retaliate with nuclear weapons if its nuclear facilities were attacked with conventional weapons. Some within India believe that New Delhi might retaliate against biological or chemical weapons attacks with nuclear weapons, she added. These differences demonstrate concerns within India over the verifiability of no first use, particularly as applied by China.
  • Disarmament: Some Indian experts are concerned about the sincerity of China’s linkage of nuclear and conventional weapons, as well as regional and international peace, as preconditions to nuclear weapons reductions and disarmament, Saalman said. Chinese analysts have raised a number of obstacles to disarmament, including India’s ongoing fissile material production, a potential arms race in South Asia, and India’s status as a non-party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
  • Negative Security Assurances (NSA): There are qualifications within India regarding its NSA pledge that apply it to non-nuclear weapons states (NNWS) “not aligned with nuclear weapons powers,” noted Saalman. China has not officially defined how it views countries outside the NPT binary framework of nuclear weapons states (NWS) and NNWS. Furthermore, some in India feel that it is unclear whether Beijing’s NSA and NFU policies would apply to Taiwan or the disputed territory of Arunachal Pradesh.
  • De-mating: China and India are both pursuing nuclear submarines armed with submarine-launched ballistic missiles, which would have implications for keeping nuclear warheads dismounted from missiles, argued Saalman. Despite these implications for nuclearizing the “Malacca Strait Dilemma” and “String of Pearls,” Sino-Indian dialogue mechanisms remain fixated on their border disputes, she added.
  • Nuclear Status: Several of the Chinese participants discussed whether China would recognize India as a nuclear weapon state (NWS). They agreed that although official recognition may take a long time, Beijing has already acknowledged this status in a de facto manner at the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
  • Deterrent Credibility: A Chinese expert asked whether India finds its nuclear deterrent to be credible, citing a lack of confidence as part of its conventional military build-up at the border. Chansoria said that the test launch of the Agni-V indicates that India is headed towards credible minimum deterrence, but it has not achieved it yet. A Chinese expert added that India will continue its nuclear modernization until it is able to deliver a payload anywhere in the world and that it views nuclear testing to be within the bounds of minimum deterrence. Chansoria responded that China continues to spend more than India on strengthening its nuclear deterrent.

Charting Future Cooperation

Chansoria suggested a suite of proposals that could serve as starting points for greater Sino-Indian exchange and confidence-building measures, including:

  • Counterterrorism: The 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai and incidents in Xinjiang suggest that China and India both face concerns over the expansion of terrorism networks. These common interests have already led to Sino-Indian counterterrorism exercises in Kunming and Belgaum, Karnataka, in India. During General Liang Guanglie’s recent visit to India, an agreement was reached to resume joint "Hand-in-Hand" military exercises with an aim of boosting bilateral military exchanges, she added.
  • Nuclear Dialogue: Chansoria emphasized similarities between Chinese and Indian conceptions of nuclear weapons as political tools to deter coercion and ensure national security. She added that their doctrines of no first use should serve as the foundation for greater interaction. Both countries are poised to build upon these stability-enhancing foundations to create greater mutual trust, she argued.
  • Non-Use Declaration: One of the Chinese participants added that China and India should strengthen bilateral confidence and transparency, in part by issuing a joint declaration of non-use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) against one another. He contended that by not referring to the weapons as nuclear, but rather as WMD, this could obviate political and legal difficulties caused by India’s position outside of the NPT.
  • Universal Disarmament: Given China and India’s mutual support for global disarmament, Chansoria suggested that the two unite to champion the cause. She recommended:
    • Holding a convention on disarmament
    • Working to establish new nuclear weapons free zones
    • Pledging no first use and de-targeting vis-à-vis one another
    • Engaging in pre-notification of missile tests
    • Establishing hotlines and other communication channels
    • Signing a mutual agreement on notification of accidental use of nuclear weapons
  • Averting Misperceptions: While arguing that an arms race is unlikely, Gu advocated greater Sino-Indian exchange to avert misperceptions on such issues as:
    • India’s nuclear program goals
    • India’s level of commitment to No First Use
    • India’s stance on the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty
    • India’s position on the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty
    • China’s and India’s concept of nuclear security and nuclear safety
    • China-India-United States triangular relations

Discussants: Cheng Ruisheng, Zou Yunhua, Zhai Dequan, Tao Wenzhao, Hu Yumin, Guo Xiaobing, Ren Jingjing, Yang Danzhi, Yan Ting, Zhong Zhong, Liu Chong, Ceng Xianglai