The Fear of Being Compared: India, China and the Himalayas

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Friday, October 4th, 2019

Friday, October 4, 20194:00PM - 6:00PM208N, North House, 1 Devonshire Place
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This lecture examines a form of international relations that arises when emerging states share an inhabited borderland: “state-shadowing”. Authority over people is crucial to effective sovereignty, yet international borderlands are often porous and heterogeneous. Borderlanders have the possibility to look across, observe and compare different state-making and nation-building projects. When neighboring states seek to consolidate in such situations, physical closeness can become a contest to prove their superiority over the state next door—which constitutes an always discernible, readily available, and equally viable alternative political project—to local people. This fear of comparison is particularly high in post-colonial polities like China and India, struggling to transform into nations. The triangular relationship between states and non-state actors in borderland situations turn state-making and nation-building into emulative, mirroring, and competitive attempts at self-definition against the other polity. As China and India’s Himalayan encounter in the 20th century attests, this fear of being compared can escalate into a destructive security dilemma. The concept of state-shadowing thus offers a framework to understand how proximity, mobility and governmentality structure the low politics between neighbouring post-colonial states, and potentially contribute to conflict.

A specialist of modern South Asia and the Indian Ocean, Dr. Guyot-Réchard holds a senior lectureship (associate professorship) in contemporary international history at King’s College London. Her award-winning work focuses on the long-term impact of decolonization, particularly in terms of international politics. She has written extensively on the strategic borderlands between India, China and Burma. More recent work focuses on India’s practice of diplomacy and on South Asia and the international order and on the geopolitics of the Indian Ocean since 1945. She regularly intervenes on South Asia-related issues in international media and policy circles.


Dr. Bérénice Guyot-Réchard
King’s College London

Takashi Fujitani
Director, Dr. David Chu Program in Asia-Pacific Studies

Main Sponsor

Asian Institute


Centre for South Asian Studies


Dr. David Chu Program in Asia Pacific Studies

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