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Looking At the Big Picture


Kapil Kak

SAMUDRA MANTHAN: SINO-INDIAN RIVALRY IN THE INDO-PACIFIC
By C. Raja Mohan
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2013, pp. 329, Rs. 895.00

VOLUME XXXVII NUMBER 10 October 2013

The rise of China and India in the post-Cold War global power configuration is now universally accepted. What is less well known is back in the eighteenth century, these Asian giants accounted for nearly one half of the global manufacturing output. A potential reversal to that era is beginning to unfold. China and India now not only face the largest consequential socio-economic and political changes for their developmental imperatives, but also the challenge of shaping their bilateral relationship. A rising and assertive China and an emerging and restrained India need peace and stability in Asia, which is said to be large enough to accommodate the interests of both powers. But two huge neighbouring civiliza-tional states, having unresolved territorial frontiers, seeking power and influence as they cooperate and compete and engage and contain each other, could run into an enduring rivalry. A contrarian perspective envisages India and China deftly calibrating their competition, along with other great powers, within a mutually appreciated strategic environment, in which both could pursue their core interests. The jury is still out.   Drawing upon the Indian fable of angels and demons churning the oceans in their mutual struggle, C. Raja Mohan’s seminal volume, Samudra Manthan posits an enduring rivalry between the two Asian giants, most notably in the maritime domain. His broad hypothesis appears sound: sustenance of high growth rates and capacity building by China and India would depend on their crucial access to and transportation of hydrocarbon and mineral resources from the rest of Asia and Africa, and vastly expanded sea-borne trade volumes, along sea lines of communications (SLOCs), across the Indian and Pacific Oceans.   As rightly averred, a resource security driven India-China rivalry could extend from Latin America to Siberia, and Africa to the South Pacific. The security driven extraordinary transformations would compel 2.5 billion people of India and China to take to the seas with vigour, and reshape their maritime strategies, that may well collide. In analysing the consequential geopolitical implications of these developments, Raja Mohan sees the United States as the predominant Asian maritime power, ‘shape’ and be ‘shaped by’ the India-China oceanic rivalry, not unlike the presiding deity, Vishnu, in the Indian legend.   Raja Mohan makes a well-reasoned prognostication on the Indo-Pacific—the expanded maritime space of Bay of Bengal, Malacca Strait, and the open expanse of South China Sea leading to East China Sea—becoming a fulcrum of great churning. On ...


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