• Pranav Joshi

BOOK REVIEW: POWERSHIFT: INDO-CHINA RELATIONS IN A MULTIPOLAR WORLD

Updated: Feb 1

"History is obliging both countries to step up and play constructive roles to shape the emerging world order even as it is impelling both sides to learn to co-exist in a common neighbourhood."

(Singh, 292)


The aforementioned quote serves as the crux of Zorawar Daulet Singh's latest book, Powershift: India-China Relations in a Multipolar World. Published in 2020 by Macmillan, the book presents a gripping narrative of comprehending India-China relations, set on the past and current policy issues. The following sections will present a summarised account of the book, my criticism, and reflections on the same before concluding.


For holistic writing on India-China relations, the border issue must get a worthy mention in the book, and Singh rightly matches that expectation. The first part being self-explanatorily titled "Border Dispute", is divided further into five chapters. Attempting to maintain a chronological undertone while explaining the events, Singh has emphasized using this undertone to present his interpretations. Commencing with the 1914 Agreement, which led to creating the Mc Mahon line, the book fast forwards to the late 1940s (1947 and 1949 in particular).


Leading on to the present, a concise account of the bilateral dispute and the corresponding actions taken by various governments till the present day; the subsequent chapter presents a retrospective insight over the 1962 India-China war. Further linking the dispute to the ongoing Cold War at the time, Singh presents the road that leads to the Depsang Valley Face-off. This section wraps up by detailing the circumstances that led to the Doklam (2017) and Ladakh (2020) crises, narrative accounts of the incident, the respective governments' consequent actions to restore it to normalcy, and recommendations for the future.


After satiating the initial interest of reading on the border issue, the book now puts India-China relations on a broader pedestal. The section named "Geopolitics and World Order" initiates a discussion on the possibility of non-hegemonic world order, implying it to be a multipolar world. It connects with the disillusionment that has stemmed from the Liberal World Order and the viewpoint that contradicts this thought.


Progressively, the relationship between China and the USA is traced through a chronological lens. Singh facilitates an easy yet holistic comprehension of the studies by carefully listing their respective interests (both convergent and divergent). The next chapter is a summary account of India's relations with the great powers. Succinctly introducing the BRI, the chapter concludes with the promise of elaborating on it in the later section (which rather hooks the reader). To draw the curtain on the geopolitical understanding, Singh successfully ties in the possibilities mentioned at the beginning of this section with the real-life illustration of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa). BRICS is seen here not as a replacement of the existing intergovernmental organizations but as a guiding example for them to follow and evolve according to the current world scenario.


The final section, titled "Strategy and Policy", ties in the information provided in the previous sections while distinctly producing nuanced observations. Singh presents a unique comparison of continental and maritime dominance by referring to Mackinder and Mahan, respectively. After suggesting the course of action that India should pursue, he delves into recommending India's priorities when framing its policy for the Eurasian region.


Furthermore, tracing India's relationship with countries such as Japan, the next chapter lays the factors that should govern India's Indo-Pacific policy. Singh subtly recommends the policymakers the way forward. China's historic declaration about the Belt and Road Initiative created ripples among four schools of thought, corresponding with four varying typologies within these schools. This chapter deals with that, and India's engagement with the BRI initiative, analyzing the divergent viewpoints that come with this engagement. The section ends by describing the contemporary changes in South Asia and comparing the policy formulations under PM Modi and former PM Nehru; it further enlists India's future policy options, considering the current constraints it faces.


As there is with every book, there are a couple of points on which the book falls short of expectations. The book has only a couple of tables, no graphs or illustrations, and no pictures that can serve as a visual break. The lack of these makes the reading a bit tedious, especially when the book's topic is such that it demands and commands attention. Additionally, certain portions in the book (particularly in section I) can throw off the reader by a constant chronological movement across various viewpoints.


However, there are certain aspects of the book that deserve appreciation. First, the book is highly informative and authentic in its research, as its reference list contains academic articles, news articles, government publications, and the viewpoints of students and other experts. Secondly, Singh signposts his objectives and interpretations within and across chapters to facilitate retention of what he intends for the reader to take with them. Additionally, the book is deftly sectioned into portions suiting various interests of all kinds of readers (as he explicitly mentions this in the preface). The book's language provides it with the potential to be widely popular, as it is written in a hybrid fashion (merging both academic and bestselling styles).


Based on the issues covered in the book and my comprehension of the same, India and China cooperate most on issues concerning the International Economic Order, followed by the issues of South Asia, and then Asia in general. The issues of divergence are dealing with Military Security and the Border Dispute.


Further, I also believe that 'the simultaneous emergence of India and China, two major powers with independent foreign policies is a reality (Singh,11), and this reality should be accepted and appreciated.

To conclude, reading this book was an enjoyable, enlightening, and insightful experience, and it will make it an enticing read for policy professionals, academic experts, ministers and politicians, students, and any other interested individual who intends to comprehend India and China relations either in totality or on a particular issue.


Cover image: Source


About the author: Pranav Joshi is a final year master’s student of Public Policy. His interest areas are International and National Politics, Government and Governance, Education policy, and Indian culture.

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