China, India and the United States: Triangles and balances in the "Asian Security Supercomplex"

Yves Heng Lim*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


This chapter draws on Lowell Dittmers well-known concept of "strategic triangles" to assess relations between China, India and the United States. A strategic triangle implies that the game played is the central game on the chessboard and that the three actors are of comparable weight. Considering power equilibriums and dynamics in contemporary Asia, it appears more reasonable to talk about a forming strategic triangle rather than about a mature one. Triangles have a logic of their own, which imposes significant constraints upon the actions participants can take and upon the amity-enmity links that can take shape. More specifically, relations between states in a strategic triangle are unlikely to become uniformly friendly or uniformly inimical. Strategic triangles are much more likely to give birth to what Lowell Dittmer calls "stable marriage" or "romantic triangles". As the Asian system is drifting toward a tripolarity, the chapter examines each of the three dyadic relations and how each of them reacts to the existence of the third pole. This survey highlights that a stable marriage might be the most likely configuration for Asia, with China occupying the uncomfortable role of the isolated power. Beyond power gaps and dynamics, which explain the larger part of current trends, the probable isolation of China in the great power game can also be traced to the existence of unresolved contentious issues between Beijing and New Delhi on the one hand-e.g. the border dispute, and Washington on the other hand-i.e. U.S. relations with Taiwan. Washington and New Delhi have conversely no outstanding dispute that might hinder their efforts for a rapprochement.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationChina and India in Asia
Subtitle of host publicationPaving the Way for a New Balance of Power
EditorsClaudia Astarita, Yves-Heng Lim
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherNova Science Publishers
Number of pages18
ISBN (Print)9781613248508, 1613248504
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes


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