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The China-India Rivalry in the Globalization Era

The China-India Rivalry in the Globalization Era edited by T. V. Paul. Georgetown University Press, 2018, 286 pp.

Modern state conflicts often emerge from small disputes between nations. In some cases, those disputes fester over years and encourage the broader classification of those arguments as rivalry. Prolonged rivalries may spark actions ranging from heated United Nations exchanges to troops moving across shared borders. The China-India Rivalry in the Globalization Era, a collection gathered by T. V. Paul, highlights the disputes and strategic approaches of the planet’s two most populous countries. The two most common Asian rivalries typically appear as India-Pakistan and China-Japan. Disputes with India and China generally seem collaborative through yearly BRICS (Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa) conferences, but, surprisingly, a number of disputes exist between them. Paul assembles interesting papers ranging from geography to nuclear strategy that feature various asymmetric challenges. Relying on a rather simple organizational structure to approach the China-India rivalry, the book first focuses on current contentious areas and each country’s use of strategy and mitigation techniques. The authors remain content examining rivalry prevention, reveling in methods to discourage escalation. The title’s globalization focus is on the multichannel, interdependent linkages pressuring the two countries to maintain civil relationships despite occasionally conflicting views.

Similar to other books collating conference papers, a common theme remains lacking despite the papers’ individual excellence. Still, Dr. Paul excels at ensuring all the various areas are adequately covered while avoiding repetition.

The first section provides six documents addressing friction between India and China. Two chapters address geographic issues including conflict along the historic Line of Actual Control as well as water resources upstream or downstream along the countries’ respective watersheds. Another two articles discuss each nation’s perception of its own international status, including how interaction with lower-status nations affects the overall rivalry. The last two items discuss rivalries from an international order perspective, supporting how each nation views its global position as it relates to the other. Each article starts with a historical overview of a contentious area and then offers current problems and solutions. My favorite article was Manjari Miller’s discussion of the two countries’ views of international order through public statements from national leaders. China’s empirical view—traditionally associated with a Middle Kingdom status and position between Heaven and all other nations—contrasts interestingly against India’s foundations of Gandhism (nonviolence), Nehruvianism (India’s first prime minister’s philosophy), Hindutva (Hindu political ideology), and neoliberal globalism. Each factor carefully traces to how the rivalry flexes today between the two nations.

The middle section has two papers addressing how each nation views the other. The first article by Andrew Scobell offers the idea of a “Himalayan Standoff,” a circumstance where neither combatant can advance without ceding the advantage. He suggests that since no conflict has erupted since 1962, no further movement may be possible. This chapter possesses such value that one should read it first to get a worthwhile perspective of the region’s core concerns. However, each nation continues to seek advantage from its asymmetric positioning through status, global interaction, and superior self-view—strongly supporting a view that no further movement exists along current lines. Scobell postulates that any future change must first emerge from each nation’s internal perception, and only when those cultures change will any corresponding Himalayan Standoff change be possible. The next chapter delves into each country’s nuclear strategies against the other and against those opponents viewed more critical to its own existence. The Indians prepare for a potential existential threat from Pakistan while China perceives the same threat from the United States. Both chapters highlight broad strategies if tensions ever lead to future conflict.

The final section seeks answers to how future mitigation may delay potential conflict between the two rivals. While India and China stare each other down across multiple borders, they remain bound by traditional interdependence influences of multiple channels, a lack of hierarchy among those channels, and the growing realization that military power alone will be insufficient to resolve conflicts. China remains barely ahead in overall international economic power, and each country seeks linkages to other parties. These last two chapters accentuate China’s growing influence through the “One Belt, One Road” initiative that increases its relative power across the developing world. India seeks similar developing influences but emphasizes more pacifistic approaches, making it difficult to create any program significant enough to counter China’s overall influence. The two authors agree that globalization trends will likely prevent any future conflict.

One common critique of works of this type is that, other than the subject area, no true central theme binds the various papers together. This comment speaks less to Paul’s editing strengths than to the sheer breadth of areas for which China and India find themselves opposed. The only area truly lacking—and perhaps this is a perception more due to my own personal strengths—is the growing cyberspace conflict between the two powers, or further, the growing desire by each for more expansive roles as leaders in space exploration and development.

Overall, the China-India Rivalry in the Globalization Era should be viewed as an excellent work contemplating the many issues facing China and India while they compete across the global stage. Despite the fact that neither country views the other as a primary rival, each strives against the other in enough areas for one to wonder why more scholars do not study this dyad. Globalism limits the two’s options while still creating additional friction areas for future academic speculation and creative thought. The two countries’ sheer size and increasing populations means that any serious international affairs scholar should continue to view these two as primary opponents. Further, the nuclear potential each country retains means that military scholars must also acknowledge the potential for wide-ranging disruptive influences. Paul has produced an excellent volume that those studying this area, as well as other global scholars, should feel comfortable in adding to a prominent position on their shelves. The comprehensive background presented and accompanying discussion make this book valuable for the casual observer and serious scholars.

Dr. Mark T. Peters II, USAF, Retired

The views expressed in the book review are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense.
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