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Through the South Asian Lens

Neha Kohli

Edited by S.D. Muni and Tan Tai Yong
Routledge, New Delhi, 2012, pp. 337, Rs. 845.00

VOLUME XXXVII NUMBER 2-3 February/March 2013

China looms large over South Asia. It borders four of the eight countries comprising the region—Afghanistan, India, Nepal and Bhutan, of which it has unresolved border disputes with India and Bhutan. The fourth largest country in the world and the second largest in the Asian landmass after Russia, China is seeking to reclaim what it views as its historic place at the centre of global and regional affairs. China’s rise over the past two decades has been phenomenal—its economy has seen double-digit growth since the 1980s and it is today the world’s second largest economy with ambitions to overtake the world’s largest (the US) both economically as well as match up to it militarily. China’s growing economic and military clout—and resultant aggressiveness in pursuing a leadership role in regional affairs—is impacting its relations with South Asia, a region with which it shares a considerable and conflicted land border. While much has been written and commented upon on China’s aims/ambitions and role vis-à-vis South Asia, it would be interesting to know the view from the other side of the fence. This perspective provided in the book under review examines how South Asian countries—Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka (exceptions being Afghanistan and Maldives)—perceive the rapid rise of China as a regional economic and military power. It looks at the constituents and stakeholders within these countries that play an important role in the formulation of these perceptions. The essays show the varying perceptions of China as ranging from admiration to expectation and anxiety, to apprehension, and, in some cases, all of these put together. The essays examine how China’s dominance is manifest through its increasing weight in global affairs, explore the political, economic and socio-cultural constituencies that help crystallize this perception, and project how each country’s relations with China are likely to be shaped by these constituencies. As it plays a larger regional role, China is increasingly coming closer to the South Asian security scene. As the volume editors state in the Introduction: ‘China regards South Asia as a very important region, an integral part of its neighbourhood’, and it hopes to create the impression ‘that its intent in the region is benign and it desires to keep peace in the region, to have a stable South Asia.’ As it forms new partnerships and redefines ...

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