It Takes Two to Tango: Autocratic Underbalancing, Regime Legitimacy, and China’s Responses to India’s Rise

Oriana Skylar Mastro, Assistant Professor of Security Studies, Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University
| Stiteler Hall B26

Why has China yet to respond strongly to improving and expanding Indian military capabilities, in particular along the disputed border? This article posits a new mechanism that discourages appropriate balancing, regime legitimacy. The basic premise is that leaders will interpret their external environment in a way that supports their right to power at home. I test this approach in the case of China’s response to India’s military rise by unpacking the Chinese government’s public message in official media, publications and statements. The evidence supports the view that the CCP is actively downplaying Indian capabilities in ways that advance sources of Party legitimacy. This dynamic raises the threshold of the external threat India would have to pose before China begins to engage in traditional balancing behavior. This research contributes to balancing theory and provides specific insights into U.S. policy options in the region.

Oriana Skylar Mastro is an assistant professor of security studies at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University where her research focuses on Chinese military and security policy, Asia-Pacific security issues, war termination, and coercive diplomacy. This year, she is also the Jeane Kirkpatrick Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Dr. Mastro also continues to serve as officer in the United States Air Force Reserve, for which she works as a Political Military Affairs Strategist at PACAF. Previously, Dr. Mastro was a Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, a fellow in the Asia-Pacific Security program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a University of Virginia Miller Center National Fellow, a Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Pacific Forum Sasakawa Peace Fellow and a pre-doctoral fellow at the Institute for Security and Conflict Studies at George Washington University. Additionally, she has worked on China policy issues at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, RAND Corporation, U.S. Pacific Command, and Project 2049. She holds a B.A. in East Asian Studies from Stanford University and an M.A. and Ph.D in Politics from Princeton University. Her publications and other commentary can be found at: www.orianaskylarmastro.com.