AT THE 18-country East Asia Summit this week in Phnom Penh, Manmohan Singh, India’s prime minister, found time to update his Twitter feed. He posted a picture of a Cambodian dance troupe performing “Samudra Manthan”, or “the churning of the oceans”—an episode from Hindu mythology. Perhaps he liked the reminder of India’s deep “civilisational” links with countries to its east. Or perhaps he was struck by the analogy to the present-day tussle for dominance in the Indian Ocean and western Pacific, and in particular, India’s emerging naval rivalry with China.
As it happens, “Samudra Manthan” is the title of a new book on this topic by C. Raja Mohan, an Indian writer on strategic affairs, for whom the myth is a metaphor for the two countries’ competition at sea. This contest remains far more tentative and low-key than the 50-year stand-off over their disputed Himalayan border, where China humiliated India in a brief, bloody war in 1962. But the book raises alarming questions about the risks of future maritime confrontation.