China and India are becoming increasingly influential, powerful and prominent countries – but what kind of countries do their leaders and people wish them to become? Will they act and behave like major Western entities or like something altogether different, hence changing the very nature of international affairs? And as the Asian twenty-first century takes shape, how will these dynamics affect the wider geopolitical landscape and the very definition of what is a great power?
Crucially, there is no single factor that can determine whether or not a country is a great power. Rather than solely economic strength or high military spending or a hefty population or a loud international voice, or even simply national belief and ambition, it is the combination and mixture of different elements that produces the composite, complex and dynamic alchemy of great power.
Material and the ideational mix with each other, whereby the value and meaning attributed to different power quotients become of paramount importance between the countries making these evaluations. Recognition, legitimation and acceptance all reside within this mélange, and combine with the dominant consensuses of the leading countries concerning what is the international system’s agreed lingua franca. Such elements change over time, as material and ideational balances rise, fall and evolve – constantly prioritizing, de-prioritizing and re-prioritizing certain factors over others.
Within this dynamism, those countries whom we regard as great powers are also subject to change. At this juncture, both China and India are undoubtedly rising and emergent great powers with their economic, military, institutional and ideational power quotients all significantly in the ascendant. Reﬂective of their relative levels of residual and latent power, China can even be considered to already be great, whilst India is more nascent; as the former’s culminative acquisition of – particularly economic and military – power has been far greater / more sustained over the last sixty years.
If current trends continue, and if its younger population is utilized, New Delhi will also arguably be able to share such a mantle by within the next decade or so. Such observations further indicate that an element of mastery is required to be a great power, in terms of how long a country has been playing the great power game using whatever its dominant dynamics may be at any given time (conquest, war, economics, diplomacy, and so on). As a new international state in its modern incarnation, it is unsurprising that New Delhi is deﬁcient in this regard, but this shortcoming can be ameliorated over time through experience, interaction, learning and increasing global authorship.
With both countries set to share the responsibility of great power in coming decades, not only will the global balance of power become firmly situated within Asia but so too will the ideas and cultures shaping the very parameters of international affairs. The historical influence of past occupation and subjugation by external forces are crucial influences here, indicating China and India’s shared status as the world’s first such post-imperial great powers. From such a basis, what we hold to signify great power – in both its definition and realization – looks set to reflect this new embryonic world order, and are ideas interrogated and analysed in my volume: China and India: Asia’s Emergent Great Powers.
Chris Ogden is Senior Lecturer in Asian Security at the School of International Relations, University of St Andrews. He is also a Senior Research Associate with the Foreign Policy Centre (FPC) in London, and a Fellow of the UK’s Higher Education Academy (HEA).