Samudra Manthan: Sino-Indian Rivalry in the Indo-Pacific

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Date: Apr. 2014
From: Contemporary Southeast Asia(Vol. 36, Issue 1)
Publisher: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS)
Document Type: Book review
Length: 1,251 words
Lexile Measure: 1620L

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Samudra Manthan: Sino-Indian Rivalry in the Indo-Pacific. By C. Raja Mohan. Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2012. Softcover: 329pp.

Raja Mohan's book is premised on three inter-related assertions: first, the persistence of Sino-Indian rivalry; second, the "spill-over" of their traditionally land-based rivalry into the maritime domain; and third, the emergence of the Indo-Pacific as a new geopolitical space. While there is some validity in each of these assertions, all three are open to some scrutiny.

The first--the persistence of Sino-Indian rivalry--is probably the least controversial. Mohan is right to note that "since the emergence of modern independent states in China and India during the middle of the last century ... the dynamic between the two nations in Southeast Asia has been a competitive one" (p. 31), though this competitive dynamic has been somewhat tempered by semi-institutional ties, such as the recent conclusion of a Border Defence Cooperation Agreement in October 2013. However, the unresolved territorial dispute between the two countries in Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin remains a thorn in the bilateral relationship, one that has fuelled a climate of mistrust, as demonstrated most recently by tensions in the Depsang Valley of Eastern Ladakh in April 2013. Despite official rhetoric claiming otherwise, there remains a propensity for misunderstanding between both states that is fuelled by limited people-to-people contacts and rising levels of nationalism, which is reflected in jingoistic media reporting in both countries. Mohan notes that "while the political leadership repeatedly affirms that they (China and India) are not a threat to each other and that Asia is large enough to accommodate their aspirations and simultaneous rise, the strategic communities on both sides have nurtured adversarial images of each other" (p. 204).

There is also evidence of the second assertion of Mohan's book that Sino-Indian rivalry has "spilled over" into the maritime domain from being a traditionally continental competition. The...

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