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Tension between the neighbours has summered for decades (AFP)
Tension between the neighbours has summered for decades (AFP)

The India-China Game of Thrones

Five books to help you make sense of the past and present of India’s border skirmishes with China

The latest face-off between Indian and Chinese troops in the Galwan valley may be one of the worst in nearly 60 years but tension between the neighbours has simmered for decades. Their historical rivalry over border control is complicated by the presence of other stakeholders—primarily Pakistan, Nepal and the US—and it isn’t likely to be resolved soon. To make sense of this fractious past and its impact on the volatile present, we picked five books that look at India-China relations from diverse perspectives.

CHINA’S INDIA WAR: COLLISION COURSE ON THE ROOF OF THE WORLD (OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS) by Bertil Lintner

A book by Bertil Lintner
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A book by Bertil Lintner

With his long experience as a journalist covering Asia, Bertil Lintner not only writes about China’s stakes in India with authority but also shines a new light on its role in the 1962 war. Until this book, India was unfairly blamed for igniting a conflict China merely defended itself in. As Lintner showed through his astute analysis, the latter’s hunger for territorial supremacy was palpable as early as 1959.

THE GREAT GAME IN THE BUDDHIST HIMALAYAS: INDIA AND CHINA’S QUEST FOR STRATEGIC DOMINANCEby Phunchok Stobdan (Penguin Random House India)

A book by Phunchok Stobdan
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A book by Phunchok Stobdan

The story of India and China cannot be pieced together fully without accounting for the role of Tibet and Buddhism in it. Stobdan, a career diplomat, explores this triangular nexus on the basis of existing scholarship and his experience of realpolitik. Recently in the news for allegedly attacking the Dalai Lama in a televised comment, the author is unafraid of making informed conjectures and bold assertions.

A GREAT CLAMOUR: ENCOUNTERS WITH CHINA AND ITS NEIGHBOURS

by Pankaj Mishra (Penguin)

A book by Pankaj Mishra
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A book by Pankaj Mishra

This collection of linked essays, based on Mishra’s extensive travels in Asia, provides a useful peek into Chinese society. Not meant for the experts or even the already well-informed, this book is for the uninitiated, opening the door to the rich literary and cultural landscape of China. If foreign policy and geopolitical dynamics isn’t your cup of tea, Mishra’s insights into the Chinese psyche may whet your appetite for further exploration.

SMOKE AND MIRRORS: AN EXPERIENCE OF CHINA by Pallavi Aiyar (HarperCollins India)

A book by Pallavi Aiyar
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A book by Pallavi Aiyar

A Mandarin-speaking foreign correspondent from India, Aiyar spent half a decade in China, covering a nation on the cusp of social, economic and technological change. Part-memoir, part-travelogue and part-reportage, the book captures her reckoning as an outsider and an Indian citizen whose experience of China is mediated through a comparative lens. Aiyar’s robust wit puts the contrasts and convergences between the two cultures in a humane perspective.

FATEFUL TRIANGLE: HOW CHINA SHAPED US-INDIA RELATIONS DURING THE COLD WAR by Tanvi Madan (Penguin Random House India)

A book by Tanvi Madan
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A book by Tanvi Madan

In spite of the friendship between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump, the history of India’s equation with the US has been influenced by the looming presence of China. By analysing archival literature spanning three decades, Tanvi Madan explains the shifting sands of the India-China-America triumvirate through the Cold War. As an Asian superpower, China not only posed a direct challenge to India but also influenced its non-alignment policy vis-à-vis the US—and continues to do to this day.

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