Monica Regan ’23
In an event hosted by the Holy Cross chapter of the Alexander Hamilton Society, Doctor Ashley Tellis delivered a lecture on the prospects of the United States government tackling what he called the growing China problem, a phrase used to refer to the inverse and unexpected relationship between economic liberalization and political centralization, with potential assistance and collaboration with the Indian government. Dr. Tellis received his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago and his MA and BA at the University of Bombay. Additionally, he served as a senior adviser at the United States embassy in New Delhi, negotiated the civil nuclear agreement with India as a senior adviser to the Secretary of State for political affairs, and served as a special assistant to former President George W. Bush on the National Security Council staff. He is currently a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The Alexander Hamilton Society is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization of students who meet biweekly to discuss American foreign policy, imbued with the Hamiltonian perspective of strong and principled American leadership in global affairs.
Dr. Tellis began by emphasizing the importance of acknowledging history and how past events trigger current prospects for collaboration in foreign policy. The first real dispute between the Chinese and Indian governments was prompted by the 1950 invasion of Tibet, which prompted the Chinese military to be in very close proximity to India. Both states had differing viewpoints on which territories were owned by which power, leading to war in 1961, in which the Chinese government was victorious. The two countries never reached an agreement about their territories, and by the arrival of Chinese statesmen, Deng Xiaoping in 1989, it was too late. His leadership brought massive economic reform which boosted China’s rise as an economic superpower on the global stage. This new, booming economy posed unprecedented challenges for India, as they had never faced such massive economic regional competition.
In regards to the United States, the US actually sponsored China’s economic rise and brought them into the global trading community, expecting them to become a key economic partner. Then, when the Cold War ended in 1991, both the Indian and the United States governments had to face the unprecedented economic strength of China. By 2008, all American hopes for the liberalization and Westernization of China had diminished. Furthermore, the two states shared concerns about China’s powerful authoritarian government and how it could threaten democracy across the globe. As Dr. Tellis points out, India and the United States were in an extremely similar position of decreasing optimism and increasing concern, which could prompt a shared solution.
In May 2020, violence broke out between the Chinese and Indian militaries, changing China from a competitor to an enemy in India’s viewpoint. Dr. Tellis brought up three possible responses from India: succumb to the Chinese government’s power, or balance against China’s power by either building up their internal capabilities through economic improvements or building up their external capabilities by forming alliances. However, he believes that India will not form a permanent alliance with the United States because of India’s colonial history, as they do not want to be subservient to a Western power again. Therefore, a feasible outcome is a soft alliance driven by self-interest between Indian and the United States governments, because America wants to balance against China, and India wants to compete with China by becoming a great power on its own. However, Dr. Tellis pointed out that the United States government will need to be wary of the Indian government’s power drastically rising. Thankfully, the United States does not have to worry about this right now, and as Dr. Tellis said to the group of students with prospective futures in foreign policy, “it’s a choice you might have to make in your careers” (Tellis 2021). Overall, Dr. Tellis emphasized the importance of evaluating historical and colonial relationships between states and how they influence modern foreign policy. He also drove the point that relationships between states are flexible and dependent on current state interests, and are always subject to change as states may fluctuate in strength. The United States and India have the power to jointly challenge the Chinese government, but, this may not be a long-term nor permanent solution to China’s growing global influence.
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Tellis, Ashley. “What Role Can India Play In Countering China’s Rise?” Lecture presented to Holy Cross students and faculty, Worcester, Massachusetts, 4 March 2021.