- China-India Relations: Contemporary Dynamics
Over the past few years, proponents of the realist and neorealist schools in international relations have come up against a paradox or contradiction, if you will, that characterizes the India and China relationship in the present. There is the problem of an unsettled boundary between these two neighbors over which they went to war in 1962; there is considerable mistrust in India with respect to the Sino-Pakistan military (particularly nuclear) cooperation, and, in China, about Indian intentions with regard to the Tibetan question; and in overall terms, the relationship appears to be suspicion-ridden. Yet, bilateral trade levels have surged, and the engagement has become far more varied and multilevel. The two countries have entered into a strategic partnership. Clearly, realist/neorealist approaches are unable to address this paradox satisfactorily. The book under review appears to be a very welcome addition to the emerging category of those works departing from the neorealist frameworks and the conflictional paradigm for examining and analyzing India-China relations, which are the staple in the Western discourse. Works of this kind are refreshing for the new approaches that are consciously sought and the new perspectives that they introduce.
Athwal begins by delineating the neorealist perspective on Sino-Indian relations and questioning the accuracy of the neorealist approaches in making an adequate case for exploring newer frameworks. However, as he says in his introduction, "rather than rejecting neorealist explanations all together because of their inconsistency … this book points towards theoretical pluralism (an appeal to 'soft' realism and theories of neoliberalism and peaceful change)" (p. 17). In the use of "soft realism," Athwal is moving closer to the "more subtler" (p. 14) works of the early realists—Carr, Morgenthau, Neibhur, and Frederick Dunn—emphasizing roles of institutions and norms, creative use of diplomacy and mutual understanding, developing mutual trust, and resolving conflict through negotiation and bargaining. The author grounds such theoretical pluralism—or "theoretical synthesis" (p. 7)—in the writings of international relations (IR) theorists such as Dougherty and Pfaltzgraff, Alker and Biersteker, Adler and [End Page 553] Barnett, and even Alexander Wendt. There is a neat survey of the critical writings on neorealism, and also the critiques of a range of the new IR approaches—neoliberalism, neoliberal institutionalism, and neofunctionalism—from which Athwal then distills his framework and usage. Athwal adopts Keohane and Nye's model, bringing together political realism and complex interdependence to examine the trade potential in transforming India-China relations. This is combined with neoliberal institutional arguments (related to sociological theories of communication) to posit the hypothesis, suggested in the works by Deutsch and Adler and Barnett, that states can possibly overcome the security dilemma through "mechanisms of communication." (p. 13). This then is the theoretical setting for the volume.
The first chapter traces the interaction between India and China after their respective independence and liberation. As the author himself puts it, this chapter is "crucial especially to those unfamiliar with the history of Sino-Indian relations because it puts the entire book and the chapters … in their appropriate context." Essentially, Athwal looks at this history in two broad swathes—the beginnings of the discord in the 1950s and the conflict of 1962 spanning up to the 1980s, when the realist/neorealist applications gain ascendance, and the period since the 1980s and 1990s, when interdependence and peaceful change theories became relevant. It, therefore, serves the author's purpose to an extent, but errs on the side of oversimplification. The difficulty with this neat division is that it cannot be sustained under closer scrutiny. The brief chill that followed the conflict of 1962 did not reduce the Sino-Indian relationship to merely that between two enemy states on different sides of the Cold War divide. Undeniably, the relations were adversarial. The tremendous upheavals in the 1960s and 1970s in the non-Western world generally, especially the Afro-Asian resurgence and the important role that both India and China were playing, the complex...