Gokhale’s insightful analysis imparts a crucial lesson: personalized styles of diplomacy do not yield favourable results when dealing with the Chinese. This observation underscores the need for a nuanced and strategic approach to negotiations with China, setting the stage for a more effective and productive engagement.

Ambassador Vijay Gokhale’s thought-provoking book, The Long Game: How the Chinese Negotiate with India, delves into the complexities of six critical negotiations that have shaped the relationship between these two nations. The Long Game, adeptly unpacks underlying patterns in China’s negotiating posture and painstakingly analyses consistencies in Chinese diplomacy that have endured since Zhou Enlai , which continue to shape China’s contemporary brand of wolf warrior diplomacy. 

Like in Ambassador Shyam Saran’s book, How China Sees India and the World, which demystified the imagined self-narrative of the Chinese as the “The Middle Kingdom”, Gokhale in The Long Game highlights how these narratives are maliciously curated and reiterated to create a false sense of authority to help the Chinese justify their actions. The Long Game fills an important gap in the field of Sino-Indian relations - a careful examination of negotiations and bargaining with China.

The Long Game is a must-read for anyone interested in India-China relations. The book identifies the strategies, tactics and tools that China employs in its diplomatic negotiations with India, and the learnings for India from its past dealings with China that may prove helpful in future negotiations. Gokhale has made many features of Indian foreign policy towards China accessible to the layman. His extremely lucid writing sums up Beijing’s approach to diplomacy in expressive and memorable ways. An instance of this is his description of the implications of China’s actions: “The Chinese want to be seen as the beautiful swan gliding on the placid surface of a lake in sylvan surroundings. Below the surface, their feet are churning away and roiling the waters for the other creatures […] but this remains unseen.”

The book is divided into seven chapters, of which six chapters focus on a specific negotiation episode that shaped the course of India-China relations. The first chapter, “Recognition,” is an overview of historical events, examining how perspectives concerning the diplomatic recognition of the then new Communist Chinese government evolved within the Indian government. After Nationalist forces fled the mainland and within three months of the announcement of the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) by Mao Zedong on 1 October 1949, India was one of the first nations to extend diplomatic recognition. According to Gokhale, “India’s recognition neither secured friendship of China nor the security of India’s northern frontier”.  

The second chapter titled, “Tibet - The Price of Friendship,” delves into the objectives pursued by India and China concerning Tibet, as well as their respective negotiation strategies, both driven by core national interests. Gokhale in this chapter argues that deception and engagement were both used by the Chinese when negotiating with India. The Chinese strategy involved diverting India's attention, in a variety of ways that Gokhale details, away from the potential worst-case scenario regarding Tibet until it became too late for India to offer assistance to Tibet or coordinate any joint action against China at the global level.

The third chapter, titled “Pokhran - How to Untie a Knot from the Tiger’s Neck,” recounts the diplomatic aftermath of India’s five nuclear tests conducted between 11th and 13th May 1998. Gokhale argues that after a seemingly neutral statement following the first two tests on 11 May, China returned with a strongly worded condemnation a few days later. He also accurately identifies how China devised an initiative aimed at isolating India on the international stage. The chapter explores China’s strategies and approaches, in multilateral and bilateral channels, as India and China engaged in diplomacy on a global platform. Ultimately, the chapter investigates how China dealt with India both multilaterally and bilaterally until normal state-to-state relations could be restored in 2001. Gokhale argues that “the Chinese leadership is thin-skinned: unsettling them by impugning their self-image and how they want the rest of the world to view them can work to the other side’s advantage”.

The fourth chapter of the book, “Sikkim - Half a Linguistic Pirouette,” centres around  protracted and intriguing diplomatic negotiations between India and China, culminating in the reference made by China to Sikkim as a “State of India” in the India-China Joint Statement of 11 April 2005. This chapter delves into China’s approach following the integration of Sikkim into India in 1975 and how both sides drew on their past experiences to shape negotiations towards their favoured outcome. China’s tactical adjustments and negotiating strategies in pursuit of its objectives are highlighted by Gokhale who contends that presuming China’s silence as agreement can be dangerous for countries, and the coming generations need to pay attention to what China does not say or does not do. 

The fifth chapter, “123 Deal - The Big Turnabout” studies Chinese diplomatic strategy to dissuade the international community from making an exception for India in the Indo-US nuclear deal. Gokhale suggests that China utilizes consensus as a tool to impede global cooperation, obstruct unfavourable multilateral initiatives, and force others to seek their assistance. This strategy enables China to obtain concessions, even if they are the only dissenting party. In the sixth chapter, “Masood Azhar - The Principle of Consensus,” Gokhale examines China’s strategy and tactics in dealing with India’s request to designate Maulana Masood Azhar, the chief of the Pakistan-based terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed, as a terrorist in the UNSC 1267 sanctions list. This chapter examines China’s response to India’s submission to the UN Sanctions Committee, along with India’s diplomatic endeavours in multilateral and bilateral fora. Gokhale claims that a key feature of Chinese negotiation is the persistent emphasis on the same point in various ways. Though it may be frustrating for the other party, the purpose is to gauge the opponent’s limits or bottom line.

The final chapter, “Lessons for India,” is a summation of the lessons drawn from the six case studies presented in the book. Gokhale distils the key takeaways and provides unofficial guiding principles for future Indian negotiators. It offers valuable insights into China’s negotiating tactics and provides a framework for understanding and engaging with China in future negotiations. Gokhale astutely observes that the Chinese diplomatic style has consistently been characterized by theatricality. He emphasizes that recent displays of the “wolf-warrior” approach in Chinese policy should not be mistaken for genuine emotions but rather seen as a shift towards dramatic presentation. Gokhale’s insightful analysis imparts a crucial lesson: personalized styles of diplomacy do not yield favourable results when dealing with the Chinese. This observation underscores the need for a nuanced and strategic approach to negotiations with China, setting the stage for a more effective and productive engagement.

An important historical moment that could have been explored in the book is Beijing’s offer of an east-west swap as a potential resolution to the border issue, that would formalise the border along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The offer, initially presented by Zhou in 1960 and later renewed by Deng Xiaoping in 1980,  merits a comprehensive analysis. The author could have analysed the implications of Beijing’s proposal, shedding light on China’s bargaining preferences and resolution framework. By examining Beijing’s offer, the book could have provided valuable insights into the intractability of India-China negotiations and their impact on the now-longstanding contentions along the border.

The Long Game: How the Chinese Negotiate with India thus stands as indispensable work that derives from Gokhale’s nearly four decades of service in the Indian Foreign Service. His first-hand experiences and assignments in Hong Kong, Taipei, and Beijing from 1982 to 2017 enabled him to produce profound insights into China’s negotiating behaviour, which are masterfully reflected in his work. This book is not merely a good read; but rather a literary companion to academics and analysts.  As Ashley Tellis succinctly puts it, “A disconcerting read, but indispensable,” perfectly capturing the profound relevance of the book. Gokhale’s work is as enlightening as it is valuable, and a resource for seeking a deeper understanding of the diplomatic equation between India and China.


Rakshith Shetty is currently pursuing his Master’s in Diplomacy, Law and Business from the Jindal School of International Affairs. He was a Research Intern at the Vivekananda International Foundation. He is also the centre coordinator for two research centres namely The Centre for North East Asian Studies and The Centre for Analytical Research and Engagement. His interests include Chinese Foreign Policy, Religious minorities in China, South Asian Studies, Corporate Threat Intelligence, Geopolitical Risk Intelligence.

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