What great powers? The rise of China and India and the structure of Asia

Yves Heng Lim*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter lays the foundation for an assessment of the future of the Asian region. Though the spectacular growth of Chinese and Indian economies have understandably caught attention, there are still some good reasons to consider China and, to a much greater extent, India as rising power rather than as full-fledged polar powers. Compared with the dominant global power, and according to most of the indicators for latent and actual power, China and India both suffer from evident weaknesses. This conjunction of discrepancies in power dynamics and unequal power distribution at the level of the region makes the Asian system particularly unstable and its future particularly difficult to predict. Security dynamics within an international system are mainly defined by the number of poles present. Defining the polarity of the Asian system is thus a tricky but crucial task. Focusing on the India-China couple, it is argued that the prolongation of the American unipolar moment in Asia, and an India-China bipolarity in Asia are outcomes that surely cannot be entirely ignored, but appear, for opposite reasons, rather unlikely. The structure of the Asian system might drift an India-China-U.S. tripolarity. In some ways, considering existing studies about the instability of tripolar systems and their war-proneness, the prospect for a tripolar Asia is somewhat worrisome. An alternative structure might be an Asian quadrangle, should Japan become at the same time a "normal" political power, and should Tokyo emancipate from its very tight connection with Washington. Quadripolarity might become the base for a concert of great powers in Asia. However, for a concert to arise, alignments between great powers would have to become significantly more fluid than they currently are, and the future of Asia might be much grimmer than a 19th-century-like European concert.

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 pages19
ISBN (Print)9781613248508, 1613248504
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes

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    Lim, Y. H. (2012). What great powers? The rise of China and India and the structure of Asia. In C. Astarita, & Y-H. Lim (Eds.), China and India in Asia: Paving the Way for a New Balance of Power (pp. 7-25). New York: Nova Science Publishers.