India's Perspective on the Sino-American Power Transition

The US and China's Rise in Power

Term Paper, 2019

21 Pages, Grade: 1.0



1. Introduction

2. Current State of Research

3. Theory
3.1. The Role of State Satisfaction in Power Transitions
3.2. Indicators of State Satisfaction

4. Materials and Methods
4.1. Public Opinion regarding the US and China’s rise in Power
4.2. Key Alliances and Perception Analysis

5. Results
5.1. Public Opinion on the United States and China
5.2. Foreign Policy
5.2.1. Alliances and Policy Initiatives

6. Conclusion
6.1. Summary
6.2. Discussion


1. Introduction

In 2004, an article in the New York Times announced the beginning of a new era, which they called the "Chinese Century" (Fishman 2004). Today, we can say that they were not exaggerating. The beginning of the twenty-first century was marked by an ever-increasing shift in the global power distribution. Asia has become the new center stage of the world's economic and political decision-making. The "Pivot to Asia" policy bears witness to this development.

The possibility of a Sino-American power transition, in which China replaces the US as the dominant world power, seems increasingly likely.

In face of America’s relative decline, the continuous existence of the established international order - the Pax Americana - throughout the twenty-first century is more and more becoming a question of the rising states’ satisfaction with this order (Layne 2018). More specifically, it is becoming increasingly clear that India, as the second main driver of the global power shift, will play a significant role in deciding the future of the international system.

In this paper, India’s stance on the Sino-American power transition will be examined. The questions that arise out of this task and will be answered are:

How satisfied is India with the status-quo of the international system and how will China’s rise in power change India’s overall state satisfaction?

The goal is to estimate whether India in the case of a power transition would be inclined to side with the United States and become “a leading member of the political west” (Mohan 2006: 18) or if it would instead ally with China to create a new international order.

To answer these questions a quick overview of the global and regional power shift and China’s and India’s respective state power are given. Afterwards, the theoretical framework for power transitions, the power transition theory, is explained with a focus on the role of state satisfaction and how it can be measured. Public opinion polls and key foreign policy initiatives, as well as alliances, are analyzed to estimate India’s state satisfaction with the current system and the influence China’s rise in power has on it.

The Opinion Polls are based on data from the Pew Research Center. The analysis of Indian foreign policy is based on the most important military and economic initiatives of the three countries since the 1990s and their respective alliance portfolios.

2. Current State of Research

A bulk of research indicates the existence of a global power shift towards Asia (e.g. Fouskas 2019; Hoge 2004; Kurtbağ 2011) as well as an impending power transition between the United States and China (Layne 2018; Mearsheimer 2010).

This development can be illustrated, inter alia, by the Bonn Power Shift Monitor (BPSM), which measures power by the country-share of the world’s total of seven different indicators: GDP (PPP), merchandise exports, service exports, armed forces, military spending, top universities, top companies and S&E publications. Their research showed a significant shift in the regional power distribution of the G20 states. In 2015 Asia’s share was 38 percent and North America’s share was 31 percent. This was an increase of 8 percentage points for Asia and a 6-point percentage loss for North America since the first study in 2005 (CGS 2015:10). The focus of attention has long been on China as the main driver of this development. Above all, the question arises as to whether the People’s Republic will replace the United States as a global dominant power, and if so, how this process might take place.

So far, the second main driver of the global power shift has not been put in the same spotlight as China. According to the BPSM, India is the sixth most powerful state among the G20, and the third most powerful state in Asia, with Japan still taking second place, but rapidly declining (CGS 2015: 14).

China and India, the two giants who together make up about 36% of the world population (UN 2017), have been comprehensively compared to each other in terms of their demographic structure and economy. These two features are interlinked (Wongboonsin/Phiromswad 2017) and commonly used as indicators for state power and national capability (Singer et al. 1972: 26). Research indicates that China's severe population aging and low fertility rate, even after discontinuing the one-child policy, will lead to weaker economic growth in the medium term. India, on the other hand, is projected to have higher growth rates for at least the next two decades, due to a relatively young population combined with declining fertility (Bloom et al. 2010; Golley/Tyers 2013). Nonetheless, both countries have consistent high growth rates, which are mostly well above those of the US.

The impact of the ongoing demographic variation between India and China is hard to predict because political decisions might still put a halt to the trend, but in general it seems that at some point during the twenty-first century India will catch up first with the US and maybe also with the Chinese economy (Rauch 2015: 16).

Carsten Rauch (2015) analyzed India’s rise in power, referring to the BPSM data, as well as other conceptualizations of the power variable. Amongst these conceptualizations are the perception of India’s power by the United States, longitudinal analysis of its power growth and cross-section analysis of its current power. He concludes that in the very probable case of a global power shift, which would also culminate in a power transition at the head of the international hierarchy, India certainly will occupy one of the top positions (Rauch 2015: 25). Following the above, and the basic assumptions of power transition theory, he raises the question of India’s satisfaction with the international system. Would it be willing to help the US balance China’s growing influence, or would it rather join forces with China to tackle the United States and create a new international order?

As described in the introduction, answering these questions, even if only to a limited extent, is the goal of this paper.

3. Theory

3.1. The Role of State Satisfaction in Power Transitions

Major wars involving both the current dominant power of a hierarchical international System and its closest challenger are the subject of Power Transition Theory (PTT). In its original formulation by A. F. K. Organski, a global Hegemon builds the international order to most benefit itself and stabilize its power, thereby accommodating some states, while leaving others in disadvantage. Differential growth rates, however, can over time translate into power shifts towards new contenders for global domination. A power transition occurs when power parity between the dominant power and its challenger is reached. Depending on the contender’s satisfaction with the status quo of the international system a major war might be looming. Contenders who are satisfied with the status quo of the international system are more likely to want to continue the existing order after the transition and thereby adopt a peaceful attitude towards the hegemon. The hegemon, not identifying any threat to its established order, will also be more likely to content with the new hierarchy. Peaceful transition of power between a hegemon and a dissatisfied challenger, on the other hand, is seen as extremely unlikely or even impossible (Organski 1958: 337).

Thus, according to this theory, the degree of the rising power’s satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the status quo of the international system determines the likelihood of major war.

By applying these assumptions to the logic of regional power shifts, extensions of the original version of the theory created a framework in which the Sino-American power transition can be considered (e.g. Lemke 2002; Greve/Levy 2018). In doing so the focus is on the relative power a state has compared to the hegemon in a specific region as well as its satisfaction with the status quo of the existing regional order. Following this train of thought, the potential Sino-American power transition can be examined as both a global and a regional phenomenon with varying implications for other states in the respective international systems.

Organski emphasizes the importance of the attitudes of these secondary powers towards an ongoing power transition:

In a major international contest, the dominant nation is assured the support of the satisfied and of whatever dissatisfied nations it can compel to aid it. The challenger draws his support from the ranks of the dissatisfied, although he rarely can count upon them all. Some will be powerless to aid him, some too timid, some too wise (Organski 1958: 331).

Therefore, not only the contender’s satisfaction or dissatisfaction is of significance, but that of the other powerful states as well. In the case of the Sino-American power transition, states like Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and India come to mind. However, the reason for the exceptional importance of India is its status as a rising power, both global and regional, due to its consistently high growth rates. It is not unlikely that India itself will become a contender for domination in Asia during this century (Rauch 2015). A closer look at India’s most probable satisfaction or dissatisfaction within a Chinese dominated system compared to its current status-quo-satisfaction might, therefore, lead to a more precise prognosis of its position in the Sino-American power transition and beyond.

From the above, the following hypotheses can be derived: If India's satisfaction with the international system is low, and if it pursues a friendly foreign-policy towards China's regional expansion, it is more likely to be on China's side in the transition. On the other hand, if India's satisfaction with the international system is high, and China's regional expansion of power drives negative-minded foreign policy, then it is more likely to be on the US’s side.

3.2. Indicators of State Satisfaction

Despite its importance within the PTT, there are no uniform methods of measurement to assess the satisfaction of states.

One could assume that there is an integral relationship between power and satisfaction. Powerful states and especially states that are rising in power should be satisfied with the status-quo because they are powerful and rising (DeSoysa et al 1997: 512). However, this conclusion does not consider that from a powerful state’s perspective it could be even more powerful if the international order would have been different. Therefore, it will not be satisfied unless the system is changed to its contentedness. Empirical demonstrations indicate that a consistent relationship between power and satisfaction does not exist (Lemke/Reed 1998).

An often-used indicator for dissatisfaction with the status quo is the growth of military expenditures (e.g. Lim 2015; Lemke/Werner 1996; Werner/Kugler 1996). In the case of India, however, this is not very useful, since an increase in military spending can have both a reference to China, as well as a reference to the United States or rival states such as Pakistan.

The most common indicator for satisfaction in the power transition theory is the similarity of alliance portfolios of the contender and the dominant power of the international system (Kim 1991). High correlations of alliance portfolios translate into satisfaction with the international order established by the dominant power. Another reason to study the alliances India has with other countries is to find out whether it perceives the rise of China as a threat. Organski and Kugler point out that an increase of security threats tightens alliances (Organski/Kugler 2015: 38). Therefore, it is possible to assume that India will strengthen and expand its relations with the US and its allies if it feels threatened by the rise of China and is satisfied with the US-hegemony.

A rather simple approach to measure India's satisfaction with the dominant power and its challenger is that of opinion polls within the country. It could be said that public opinion plays a subordinate role in international relations, since foreign policy is mainly determined by the elites of a country. However, in this particular case there are two reasons against this presumption:

Firstly, India is a democracy. Important foreign policy decisions should never completely oppose to the public opinion or otherwise the politicians in charge would lose elections. Secondly, the Indian press is severely limited in its coverage (WPFI 2018), which is why it can be assumed that the country's elites are able to channel their opinion through the media into the public.

4. Materials and Methods

To achieve an as meaningful result as possible, both public opinion and the political and strategic choices of India facing the United States and China are analyzed and put into the context of India’s state satisfaction.

4.1. Public Opinionregardingthe US and China’s rise in Power

The Pew Research Center’s Global Indicator Database will be used to asses public opinion. It consists of data from worldwide conducted public opinion surveys. Since 2013 they also conduct annual surveys in India through face-to-face interviews. The multi-stage, stratified cluster samples contain 2400 to 2600 respondents who are surveyed on a wide range of topics, including opinions about other countries (Pew 2019).

The average attitudes towards China and the US will be analyzed. The aim is to draw conclusions about the general satisfaction India’s population has with the United States in its role as the global and regional hegemon as well as with the rising Chinese state. For practical reasons, the favorable or unfavorable attitude will be regarded as a sign of satisfaction with the respective state. The state, which the Indian population has a more favorable view of, is also the state whose order most satisfies the Indian population. If satisfaction with China increases over time, or if satisfaction with the US decreases, it is to be expected that the Indian population perceives the rise of China as something positive. If, on the other hand, satisfaction with China declines, this is a sign of a negative attitude towards China's rise in power. In order to be able to make a meaningful comparison, the opinion of the Indian population regarding the two states is set in relation to that of other countries of the Asian-Pacific region in the data set.

4.2. Key Alliances and Perception Analysis

In order to analyze India’s perception and attitude, key foreign policy decisions regarding strategic military and economic partnerships with the United States, China and their respective allies are considered. The comparison of alliance portfolios, as well as other key policy decisions, will serve as the basis of assessment for India’s threat or opportunity perception regarding China’s rise in Asia.

From the 1990s onwards Indian foreign policy has seen a paradigm shift as it has become more and more pragmatic in its approach to foster economic and strategic relationships. Anti-Western ideology and moral exceptionalism took a backseat and India normalized its relations with other countries and international institutions (Malone/Mukherjee 2010: 3). For this reason, the analysis will focus on foreign policies that were initiated from the 1990s onwards.

5. Results

5.1. Public Opinion on the United States and China

The main findings with regards to differences in attitude towards the United States and China are that Indians strongly favor the United States over China. As shown in figure 1, between 2013 and 2017 there was an average gap of 24 percentage points between the favorable view towards the United States and China. Over half of the respondents viewed the US favorably which indicates an at least somewhat satisfied attitude towards their international order. Compared to other countries in the same region such as Vietnam and Japan however, this gap in positive attitude does not impress. Still, the comparison allows to classify the country as more inclined towards the US.

The gap between the respondents’ attitude towards China and the US is more explicit when the unfavorable opinion shares are compared (Figure 2). Between 2013 and 2017 on average 38 percent of Indians had an unfavorable view of China. In the same time-period only 12 percent had an unfavorable view of the US. The non-negative Attitude towards the United States is even more outstanding when compared to all other nations in the database. In 2017

India had the smallest share of respondents with an unfavorable view of the US of all surveyed countries (Pew 2017c). The people of India do not seem to feel much dissatisfaction with the current hegemon, the United States. Otherwise, this result would be difficult to explain.


Excerpt out of 21 pages


India's Perspective on the Sino-American Power Transition
The US and China's Rise in Power
University of Cologne  (Seminar für Politische Wissenschaft - Lehrstuhl für Internationale Politik und Außenpolitik)
Einführung in die Machtübergangstheorie
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Machtübergangstheorie, Power Transition Theory, PTT, Power Transition, Power, Macht, Organski, Indien, China, USA, Indische Außenpolitik, Machtvariable, Hegemonie, India, Power Shift, Internationales System, Internationale Ordnung, international order, status quo, war, Krieg, Ländervergleich, Allianzportfolios, Allianzen, Japan, India relations, international relations, East Asia, South Asia, Südasien, String of Pearls, OBOR, BRICS, Neue Seidenstraße, South China Sea, Südchinesisches Meer, Indischer Ozean, Konflikte, indian foreign policy, balance of power, neorealism, neorealismus, balance of threats
Quote paper
Peter Solbach (Author), 2019, India's Perspective on the Sino-American Power Transition, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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