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The Status Dilemma in World Politics: An Anatomy of the China–India Asymmetrical Rivalry

Author: Xiaoyu Pu

Affiliation: Department of Political Science at University of Nevada Reno: Reno, NV, US 

Organization/Publisher: The Chinese Journal of International Politics 

Date/place: July 28, 2022/UK

Type of Literature: Journal Article 

Number of Pages: 19 



Keywords: China-India Relations, Status Dilemma, Conflict of Interest, Asymmetrical Rivalry 




The purpose of Xiaoyu Pu’s study is to challenge the belief that the relationship between China and India is a zero-sum game. Instead, he argues that the status dilemma model can be used to better understand the dynamics of this relationship and other aspects of world politics. To support his argument, Pu compares the status dilemma model with the security dilemma and the status competition model. Through this comparison, he aims to provide a clearer understanding of the logic and mechanisms behind the status dilemma in world politics, and offer a different perspective on China-India relations.


According to the author, the security dilemma is characterized by three main assumptions: an anarchical system, self-defense as the main motivation for states, and the tendency for military updates by one state to trigger similar updates in other states. This study, however, focuses specifically on the concept of status in world politics. The author defines status as a state’s beliefs about its ranking and value based on certain characteristics and qualities. It is important to note that the author differentiates between status and power, highlighting that status has more of a social and cultural meaning. Like the security dilemma, the status dilemma arises due to a lack of complete information or understanding about whether a state’s status is being challenged, leading to potential misunderstandings and conflicts. 


In his study, Xiaoyu Pu aims to show that the relationship between China and India is not a zero-sum game, meaning that the goals of these states may be compatible to some extent. To do this, he compares three different models of world politics – the security dilemma, the status competition model, and the status dilemma model – and highlights how the status dilemma model can provide insight into the root causes of international conflict. While the security dilemma focuses on security as the main factor driving conflict, the status competition model assumes that status is a scarce resource, making it a zero-sum game between states. The status dilemma model, on the other hand, suggests that international conflict arises from misunderstandings about what contributes to it, and that the competition for status may be overstated. 


The border conflict between China and India can be better understood in terms of conflicting interests rather than a focus on security, according to the author. Both countries have been vying for international status, with India particularly seeking to increase its power and status on the global stage. The author notes that India has expressed frustration with China’s reluctance to recognize India as a rising global power in international institutions, such as the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the United Nations Security Council. India perceives China’s obstruction of its membership in these organizations as an attempt to hinder India’s ambitions and diminish its status.


According to Xiaoyu Pu, there are several reasons why India and China are competing for greater status in the South Asia region. Both countries possess hard and soft power that influences their competition, and they are also expanding their naval capabilities which could lead to naval competition. India is concerned about China’s efforts to strengthen its relationships with India’s neighbors, viewing it as a threat. Additionally, the balance of power in politics plays a role in the status competition between India and China. The author argues that the US’s accommodation of India is not only a matter of balancing power, but also of status. China sees the US’s actions as an attempt to limit China’s growth and establish an anti-China alliance in the region through its support of India and Prime Minister Modi’s strategy. 


According to the author, the status dilemma model tends to exaggerate the competitive nature of the status relationship and underestimate the potential compatibility of states’ status goals. The author suggests that China has no strategic desire to impede India’s rise on the global stage, and in fact, India’s rise aligns with China’s preference for a multipolar world. However, Indian elites perceive China as the only major power that does not accept India’s rise.


Contrary to the belief that status is a scarce resource, the author of this article suggests that we are experiencing a proliferation of status abundance. The emergence of international clubs such as the Group of Twenty and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum illustrates that status can be seen as a club good, rather than a zero-sum game. While both China and India have cooperated in international clubs, their goals for international status within the UN system may be compatible to some extent. However, the author notes that rising powers may not always seek to increase their power, as it can be costly. Previous studies have assumed that India will always strive for greater recognition as a great power, but the author argues that India has actually protested being over-recognized due to its rise in the international system. In contrast, China is working towards great power status while trying to maintain its image as a developing country.


Xiaoyu Pu identifies power asymmetry and motivated reasoning as two sources of mistrust and miscommunication between China and India. He points out that while India initiated economic liberalization in the 1990s, China began its reforms in the 1970s and has since become a much stronger economic power. China has also gained membership in various “great power clubs” and has even established new international institutions. This difference in growth between the two countries has resulted in a power asymmetry and has led China to view India as less of a threat, while causing India to be more sensitive to Chinese actions. The author argues that both countries have succumbed to misperception, with Indian officials interpreting every Chinese action as motivated by zero-sum thinking, and China perceiving India’s partnership with the US as an attempt to resist and obstruct China’s rise. Another example cited by the author is India’s failure to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which India attributes to China’s efforts to hinder its rise, while the author asserts that China’s opposition to India’s membership in the NSG was driven by concerns about its criteria. The concept of motivated reasoning – the idea that people’s motivations shape their evaluation of information – may also contribute to misperception between the two countries, as states may not objectively assess threats or opportunities in the international arena.


According to the author, China’s perception of India is generally more negative than India’s perception of China. However, the author repeatedly emphasizes the potential for a non-zero-sum-game relationship between the two countries. While the author suggests that China does not view India as a threat, misperception and mistrust contribute to the ongoing conflict between them.

By: Sara El Souhagy, CIGA Research Intern 



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