MacArthur Foundation Research Project


The Australia India Institute is undertaking a major research project through 2016 that focuses on the interaction of China and India as maritime powers in the Indo-Pacific. The project is funded by the John D. and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation

China and India are emerging as major maritime powers of the Indo-Pacific as part of long term shifts in the regional balance of power. While there has been much focus on the strategic interaction between China and the United States in the Pacific, there has been much less analysis of how China and India will interact as major maritime powers. In particular, there has been little articulation of Chinese perspectives of its maritime role in the Indian Ocean or of India’s strategic aspirations in the Pacific.

As their wealth, interests and power expand, China and India will increasingly come into contact with one another in the shared maritime security space of the Indo-Pacific. How India and China get along in that new context – cooperation, coexistence, competition or confrontation – will be one of the key strategic challenges of the 21st century. Along with US-China and China-Japan relations, the relationship between India and China will set the tone for peace or conflict in the decades ahead. 

Although India and China have a growing trade relationship, the overall bilateral relationship remains relatively volatile and tension-ridden. There are many unresolved security issues between them, including a major border dispute in the Himalayas, questions over Tibetan autonomy and China’s de facto alliance with Pakistan. Not least is China’s growing presence in the Indian Ocean where China is perceived to be shaping the strategic environment in its favour and forming alignments that could be used against India. Many in New Delhi see a significant risk that India and China will, as Admiral Arun Prakash, former Indian Chief of Naval Staff, put it, ‘compete and even clash for the same strategic space.’   

Yet, of all major power relationships in Asia, the India-China relationship is the least studied or understood. Many scholars and analysts focus on the strategic interactions among the United States, China and Japan. In contrast there is relatively little international focus on the Sino-Indian relationship. In addition, academic discussion in both India and China on the relationship is often constrained by ideological and historical factors, which often results in relatively unsophisticated analysis of the other’s perspectives and intentions: in particular, there is little understanding China’s perspectives on the rise of India as a major power and its expectations about respective maritime security roles in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

China and India at Sea: Competition and Coexistence will address how China and India will interact as major maritime powers in the Indo-Pacific region - the Asia-centric region that encompasses the Indian and Pacific Oceans and which is defined by the roles and interests of major powers within that space.

Key questions to be considered by the project include: 

  • Understanding Chinese and Indian strategic ambitions in the maritime realm and perceptions of the legitimate maritime security roles of each other.
  • How the interests of China and India will intersect in the Indian Ocean and Western Pacific. 
  • How developments in Chinese and Indian trade and investment flows will affect maritime security.
  • Perceptions and interests of other key regional players in the Sino-Indian strategic relationship.

The project will articulate and synthesise perceptions of official and leading non-official analysts in China, India and other key states about the future roles of China and India in Indo-Pacific maritime security. It will examine potential areas of conflict and cooperation in the maritime realm and provide policy recommendations for those with an interest in helping to mould this key relationship in the interests of regional stability and prosperity.

Project Director: Dr David Brewster -  Distinguished Fellow, Australia India Institute

David Brewster is a former corporate lawyer, specialising in mergers and acquisitions and has practised in the United States, Britain, France and Australia. He completed a doctorate in Indian strategic affairs in 2010 at the Australian National University. He writes widely about Indian strategic affairs and the India-Australia relationship. His books include India as an Asia Pacific Power and India’s Ocean: India’s bid for regional leadership.


Project Advisor: Professor Amitabh Mattoo, CEO & Founding Director, Australia India Institute

Professor Mattoo is the Director of AII and a Professor of International Relations at the University of Melbourne. He concurrently serves as Professor of Disarmament Studies at the Centre for International Politics, Organisation and Disarmament at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University. Professor Mattoo has been a Member of the National Knowledge Commission, a high-level advisory group to the Prime Minister of India and the National Security Council’s Advisory Board. He was the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Jammu from 2002-2008. He received his Doctorate from the University of Oxford and has been a visiting Professor at Stanford University, the University of Notre Dame, the University of Illinois, and the Maison des Sciences de l'Homme in Paris. He has published extensively including eight books and more than a hundred articles. He was awarded the Padma Shri, one of India's highest civilian awards, for his contribution to education and public life.

Project Advisor: Rory Medcalf

Professor Medcalf is Head of the National Security College at the Australian National University. His professional background spans diplomacy, journalism, think tanks and intelligence analysis. He was Director of the Lowy Institute’s International Security Program from 2007 to 2015. He has worked as a senior strategic analyst with the Office of National Assessments, Canberra's peak intelligence analysis agency. His experience as an Australian diplomat included a posting to New Delhi, a secondment to the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, truce monitoring after the civil conflict in Bougainville and policy development on Asian security institutions. He has contributed to three landmark reports on nuclear arms control and disarmament including the Canberra Commission and the Tokyo Forum. His earlier work in journalism was commended in Australia’s leading media awards, the Walkleys. He has been active in developing Australia's relations with India, including as founding convener and co-chair of the Australia-India Roundtable, the leading informal policy dialogue between the two countries.