Crouching tiger, hidden dragon
Parshotam Mehra

The India-China Relationship: Rivalry and Engagement
edited by Francine R. Frankel and Harry Harding. Oxford University Press, New Delhi. Pages XII+377. Rs 595.

The India-China Relationship: Rivalry and EngagementAs the two major emerging powers of Asia and the world, both India and China have gradually evolved over the past couple of decades from a policy of conflict and confrontation to one of engagement, if not cooperation. Their contested borders, nuclear rivalry, competition for influence-and not only in Asia-growing economic clout if also domestic problems and preoccupations make for a complex if also complicated scenario. The challenges they represent and the opportunities they afford are by no means easy to untangle, and that is where the usefulness and relevance of this study needs to be heavily underlined.

A three-part compendium, the opening gambit offers a "historical overview" with a broad perception of India's policy towards China followed by the latter's own perceptions and policies towards its neighbour. The more substantial second part, touching the varied "dimensions" of the India-China relationship, takes into account the inevitable border issue, the nuclear and security balance, economic reforms and global integration, as also the two countries' "convergent" perspectives on their place in the scheme of things in tomorrow's world. And the final roundup underlines the evolution of the strategic triangle-China, India and the US.

A few significant points the book makes need to be underscored. To start with, by incorporating the vast landmass of Tibet with its relatively small non-ethnic Han population, Mao and his men had by 1951 significantly enlarged China's heartland. It "neutralised" any threat from India in the west and the Soviet Union in the north and at the same time "reinforced" the country's strategic security: protecting the heartland by controlling the periphery.

As Beijing viewed it, Nehru's idea of "cultural influence and potential dominance" of South East Asia and the Indian Ocean region was "a re-assertion" of the British imperialist mentality. And of an ambition to establish "a greater Indian Empire" by dominating neighbouring states.

New Delhi’s actions—its concessions on Tibet, advocacy of Beijing's admission to the UN and sympathetic attitude in negotiations after the Korean war—were, as the Chinese viewed them, by no means altruistic. Its clear and unambiguous motivation being moral righteousness and the fond hope that she would thereby win China's cooperation for constructing an Asian balance limiting the influence of western powers in Asia. Rejecting all idealism, Mao took the more realistic military perspective wherein India's claims to great power status needed to be demonstrated in material terms and not only in its much-vaunted classical cultural superiority.

The book, as may be evident, is a compendium with, barring the two editors, eight contributors. As in all such cases, the quality is uneven. Apart from an introduction by Frankel, a few that struck this reviewer as outstanding include Susan L. Shirk’s One-sided Rivalry: China's Perceptions and Policies Toward India, T. N. Srinivasan's Economic Reforms and Global Integration and Mark W Frazier’s Quiet Competition and the Future of Sino-Indian Relations. Apart from a few non-descriptive sketches, there are a number of very interesting and useful tables: Growth of GDP, China and India, 1700-1998, Percentage of Population Living in Poverty, India and China, 1951-2000, and Comparative Personal Computer and Telephone Penetration Rates, India and China, 2000.

Both editors are professors of political science—Frankel at the University of Pennsylvania, Harding at George Washington University. Among her other works, Frankel has written Dominance and State Power in Modern India (1989); Harding, Organising China: the Problem of Bureaucracy 1949-1976 (1981).