China and India, Great Power Rivals

China and India

Author(s):  Mohan Malik

ISBN:           978-1935049418

Publisher:  FirstForum Press

Year:           2011

Price:           81.99 €

Reviewed by- Pradeep Kumar, School of Extension and Development Studies (SOEDS), Indira Gandhi National Open University, New Delhi-110068

The book is an outcome of more than 25 years rigorous work and understanding on China- India relations. This is very useful book for international relations, geo-political science, asian studies, policy makers and global administrators. Mohan Malik’s earlier contributions like Dragon on Terrorism (2002), Religious Radicalism and Security in South Asia (2004) and three volumes on Asian Defence Policies (1994) are well known readings and very significant in this direction. All these contributions reveal not only his depth of understanding rather also unravels the subject with inter disciplinary approach to see international relations. As he starts in this book the description of ‘strategic cultures’ of two countries. Cultures play a critical role in foreign relations and with political and economic understanding it has significant role in international relations. Here, ‘strategic culture’ more or less defined as culture with self-image and identity (p-10) and nation’s proper role in world politics.

The author not only described and compared the culture of two great civilizations and mutual relations in early periods but traces the journey towards their respective nation building process. During this long period we see large similarity and differences in order to acquire regional power and development. Similarly, we can see common deep rooted history, past colonial experiences and cultural exchanges. Besides these, presently both are facing similar problems like poverty, large population, lagging in economic development, national integration and socio-political challenges. While analysing the differences between the two civilizations the writer is very cautious and following a value neutral stand, particularly when he is describing territorial problems of two nations (page-14). The author explains this in a quite explicit way. Indeed, he thinks there are evidences that reject the hypothesis  that there are few instances of expansionist approach observed in both nations by external invaders.

Broadly, the book covers a wide time span, as three parts of the book deals past, present and future relations. First part encompasses three chapters focused on strategic culture and perception of India and China to each other. The next part includes five chapters which reveal fault lines between the two countries and their present status. This is the most significant portion of this book covering issues like Tibet and territorial disputes, the China- Pakistan- India triangles, Burma and regional strategy, the proliferation axis and multilateral manoeuvres. Above mentioned issues of dispute between China and India are major and perhaps smaller issues covered in broader issues or ignored like the dispute pertaining to Arunachal Pradesh. The last part provides future projections of the relation of China and India and includes two important areas, namely the Indian Ocean and strategic triangles, tilts, alignments, and competition for overseas bases.

Tibet is one of the core concerns of bilateral relations in post independent China and India. Both have their own stand and respective relation with Tibet. Perhaps the most important aspect of this relationship is missing i.e. the role of international agencies like UN and regional associations, the understanding of Tibet in China and above all human rights and cultural links. The writer has dealt at length about the history of Tibet’s administrative and political condition in pre-independence period. It’s true that has major role in present administration and foreign relations. However, the thrust on socio-cultural aspects are less emphasized which is also very significant for any region, community and so its standing in the present global order. In this context, cultural relations must be strengthened in order to bridge the fault line which has been created in the few past decades. Nevertheless, the solution is not written in History, but rather in neutral interventions of every stakeholder toward a positive outcome. Here, the foremost concern is to protect and revive cultural relations above power rivalry.

The next fault line between China and India is the triangular relation among China-Pakistan-India characterized by fundamental ideological differences and common interests. This reveals that ideology used as manifested causal analysis and no as such relevance in order to pursue hidden agenda to force by some affluent sections of society without thinking the larger inerest. The book analyses common thread of China and Pakistan i.e. absence of democratic values, both have authoritarian political system- one having frequent military authoritarian other has dominant socialist structure and limited individual freedom. Whereas Indian political system and constitution does not allow such power which curtain individual freedom. In this triangular relation, China and Pakistan are very close ally, following the old proverb ‘enemy of enemy is friend’. This has proved also that China is always preferred partner than even USA.

The chapter ‘Multilateral Maneuvers’ is most important because of two reasons- one for complex foreign relations and its changing dynamics. Power is not played on field rather strategic shift like a chess board. This has depicted nicely by Malik, very meticulously he unfolds power gain of two countries and its changing dimensions. In order to achieve greater regional hold China and India tried to get into two regional associations SAARC and ASEAN respectively. In this effort, they were also successful; India got membership in ASEAN while China received observer status in SAARC along with Japan. Not only this, the reform in Security Council of United Nation is very much part of this rivalry, the issues of NATO are also are directly or indirectly concern to this relation as well as it will play a crucial role in future.

Malik also consider the issue of Burma can’t be ignored between two emerging Asian nations. He has described about Burma (present Myanmar) and its historical links with both countries as well as its own social, political and economic presence in the region. Malik may consider that Burma is tilted towards because its authoritarian Junta regime has no alternate and China can serve its other interests. If we see the historical relation with India, that is much deeper and strong, India acted as natural ally who has evolve in long cultural interface and faith developed between two society. Hence, the civil society of Burma is closer and tilted more on Indian side than else. Secondly, India never interfered Burma’s internal affairs even though supporting Aung Suu Kyi and their party NLD. This book provides detail descriptions of growing strategic hold of China from northern part to eastern part certainly indicates not only reveals military and strategic strength in south Asia and south east Asia but also its increasing economic growth by larger market for its products and getting cheaper raw material. Perhaps, this is upper hand in this rivalry as we are aware that a Chinese economy is three times higher than India. Now question arise Is this type of economy or relationship sustainable?

Last two chapters are centre point of this book which explains most significant aspects of this bilateral rivalry because it deals about the future trend of rivalry. First, ‘energy flow and maritime rivalry’ and secondly, international support for power race both countries- China and India are having frictions once and again. Indian Ocean is one key area where both strives their attempt and particularly China trying hard to make their presence. In this effort somewhat also successful in terms of regional trade despite odd conditions while they have shown their strategic presence western side. As we know the importance of Indian Ocean Region (IOR) for transportation, trade, marine reservoir, energy sources, minerals, commodities etc. Therefore, the friction is very natural future attempts will reveal rivalry trends. ‘Triangle tilts and strategic future’ is another most important issue that has not dealt at length but very efficiently described its dynamics. International relation has great role to acquire power or lose it. Malik provided detailed description but lesser focus given to Non Aligned Movement (NAM) which is still significant.

The book is very timely published. As we are aware that this is high time to understand the two emerging giants of Asian region when global economic meltdown has started particularly western developed regions are severe effect of this challenge. However, these two Asian countries have least influence of this economic crisis and it is expected their future role to the region and world development are very significant. A recent meeting between between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao, both have set a target of taking their total trade to USD 100 billion by 2015. During the meeting on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit (2012) at Phnom Penh (Cambodia), Singh is expected to seek larger investments from China, particularly in the national manufacturing and investment zones being set up in India as indications given by Commerce Minister Anand Sharma.

Rivalry is the best term to understand this bilateral relation. Malik tried to analyse that rivalry is only applicable where we find very close bond or relationship. This may be changing with time and extent. Chinese Premier Wen Ziabao remarks that “in the last 2200 years, China and India per cent 99.9 per cent of the time enjoying friendly relations and only 0.1 per cent of the time relations were not good”. It is true also that when we see socio-cultural relations, exchange of knowledge and particularly religious link, it is deeply embedded since ancient to modern period. Differences start with after independence to maximise global status. Therefore, regional power tussle are manifestation of competition to grab more and more international power through regional domination. The book has strength to analyse this complicated aspects meticulously.

It include vast reservoir of related and valid literature on the theme which could have been possible because of long period of rigorous research. This is an outcome of ten article which has been published different point of time at different journals but within broader framework and theme i.e. China and India relation. Now methodologically combining these ten articles written in different point of time how far justified? Except one unifying thread common theme. Secondly, measuring perception through secondary literature is very difficult and invalid effort. Not necessarily, perception of leaders will match with people’s perception. It is very much subjective measurement and large scope of validity of data proved through primary sources. The perception of India from Chinese eye and vice-versa must include primary informations. However, getting primary sources in international relations is very tough task and author has to face many constraints and perhaps mostly dependent available most reliable and valid information.

Over all, I feel this is very exhaustive and invaluable research based contribution on China and India relations. I have not seen such detailed comprehensive book on the theme. Perhaps it would have not possible without long period of devotion and understanding. Nice presentation of international support depicted through diagrams which simplify the broader understanding without any distortions. Above all, this is very pertinent when two countries coming closer perhaps this book is very useful for research, policy makers and related disciplines.

Suggested citation:  

Pradeep Kumar (2013). Review of ‘CHINA AND INDIA, Great Power Rivals’ by Mohan Malik (2011), East Asian Integration Studies, Vol. 6, no. 15, Internet file: