How China views emerging India?
There has been a debate about India in Chinese print and electronic media for quite some time, recently Chen Yanwei filed a cover page story in Renwu Zhoukan (Personalities Weekly), and Ren Yan who was chief correspondent of the People’s Daily in India for couple of years also writes on similar lines in Global Times, Chinese edition a paper owned by the People’s Daily. Most of the issues discussed about India are social disparity, economic model, social stratification, population problem, democracy etc. issues. The mainstream Chinese have been heavily influenced by these discourses which portray India in a very pessimistic way and see no future for India in the global arena; the general belief in China is that China has left India far behind in terms of economic and social development and it will take India decades to catch up with it.
The starting point for India’s debate in China is that both India and China are world’s most ancient yet living civilizations. Both are most populous countries in the world and are emerging as new poles of the global economic development. In modern times if India was reduced to a colony by the British, China also suffered colonial repression in the form of various wars of aggression and unequal treaties. When they became free in the late 1940s both had almost same level of development, albeit India was slightly ahead of China; the Chinese feel that this was the only time when China lagged behind India in history. Today China draws comparison with India in terms of overall economic development and the vibrancy of their systems of governance. Many are of the view that the English and the democracy which British ‘endowed’ India upon exit have not rescued the Indian society from its ills. Looking back at the developments since 1949, Chinese feel that the planned economy initiated by both the countries did not do wonders for either country, China especially made blunders under Mao, and the ten years of chaos during the Cultural Revolution, the man made famine and hunger are often cited as an example. Irrespective of social upheavals in China under Mao, most of them agree that China was still ahead of India.
It is agreed by one and all except a few Mao zealots that it was after Mao’s demise and Deng’s emergence at the Chinese political stage that China’s agricultural and Industrial productivity was truly unleashed in the form of ambitious agrarian and economic reforms initiated by Deng. Since then China has undergone a profound transformation never seen before. In a short span of 32 years from 1978 to 2010, China’s GDP increased from 147.3 billion US dollars to 5 trillion US dollars. The number of rural poor dwindled from some 250 million to 15 million. The comprehensive national strength of China increased remarkably and the texture of life of its people improved by leaps and bounds. India though followed the suit in 1991, its performance pales before China, for within a period of 19 years, India’s GDP increased from 316 billion US dollars to only 1.3 trillion US dollars. Until 1990 the GDP of India and China was almost similar; China’s GDP was merely 36 billion dollars more than India. However, after two decades China increased its GDP by 15 times, whereas India only by 4 times. It is owing to this mammoth economic growth that China has left behind Germany and Japan to occupy the position of second largest economy of the world. Chinese are optimistic that soon they will also leave behind the US. It is this confidence that the Chinese exhumes and says the gap between India and China is bound to increase rather than narrowing down; for example they say between 2006 and 2009, the gap between the two economies increased by 2.94, 2.91, 3.78, and 4.00 times respectively.
Chinese are quite keen to support the level of development by social indicators, which obviously are in favor of China. Average Chinese admits that China has serious problems such as corruption and environmental degradation, however, corruption, in India according to them is of graver magnitude that affects the ordinary citizens. Getting things done in India is illustrated through an analogy that goes: you get things cleared from the central government, it is stalled by the local government; get it done from the government, it would be stalled by the parliament; even if you get it done at all levels, it is stalled by another election! One third of the population in India is illiterate and poor, on the contrary in China the illiteracy is just 4% of the entire population asserts one columnist of a government paper. Even if we follow the UN parameters over 400 million live in utter poverty in India comparing to 100 million in China. In India 43.5% of the children under age 5 suffer from acute malnutrition, which according to the Chinese is even worse than the African record, least to talk of life expectancy and other health indicators of the two countries. Infrastructure wise, China’s has built world class infrastructure that can pale the levels in Europe and US; India’s level on the other hand could be compared to the level of middle ages where cows, horse carts, donkeys and elephants find their place amidst the luxury cars moving on the roads with plenty of potholes.
While talking about India’s development, my Chinese friends tell me that it has been mired by various social problems such as caste, dowry, female infanticide, untouchability, social injustice, poverty, feudal justice system in the form of ‘khap panchayats’ whereby couples are killed for family honor. Poverty has paved way for slums in every big and small city. The ‘honor’ of having the world’s largest slum is also with India’s prime city, Mumbai that ‘dreams’ of catching up with Shanghai. If India is world’s ‘largest democracy’ it is also world’s largest illiterate, backward, corrupt and chaotic democracy feel many Chinese. India being a democracy is indigestible, as they cannot believe how a country can be called democracy where social reforms and industrialization remains unheard of. This is one of the reasons why Indian democracy is so substandard and chaotic. Indian caste system is equally viewed as a hurdle in the way of industrialization, for people belonging to different castes won’t be able to work together in a manufacturing place. The caste and religion is so deep rooted that instead of reforming it, each political party has turned these into their vote banks. As far as population is concerned, one happily posited that it is a great feeling that a few years down the line China will pass the ‘crown’ of most populous country to India, yet no political party in India dares to initiate measures to check the population menace.
When I asked to comment a Chinese friend on India’s huge labor force, he commented that like China, India also has a huge labor force; therefore it is logical to develop tertiary and manufacturing industries. However, owing to infrastructural bottlenecks, India has not been able to do so. The basic amenities such as water and electricity are inadequate even in Delhi, the capital city, how can they provide it for manufacturing and processing industries. As a result, the service industry that does not require huge infrastructure has taken shape in India, but has not been able to provide employment to millions of India’s surplus labor force. My Chinese friends again blame it on the democracy as they say it is extremely difficult to get clearance for building a factory or highway in India. Your very own Tata was not allowed to set up a plant in West Bengal and the Korean Steel Company POSCO is still waiting for land acquisition even after six years of signing the agreement with the local government. During my talks with Chinese, many have favored privatization of land and democratization of the country, however, the majority view is that we cannot tread the Indian path of land privatization and democracy. India boasts of having more arable land than China, but has not been able to solve its food and clothing problem of its citizens, argues a university student.
Most of the Chinese also compares the social stability in these two countries. India is riddled with so many religious and ethnic conflicts; the political system in India has failed to guarantee political and social stability. When I pointed out that isn’t Tibet and Xinjiang equally troubled regions, one argued that it appears but the problem is not that grave, for the combined population of these two autonomous regions is just 15 million, and it is insignificant in the ocean of 1.3 billion people, hence no question of instability in China. Since political and social stability is detrimental to economic activity, India will find it tough to maintain a considerable level of economic growth, asserts another.
There are people who are also taking into account the western assertions that India’s independent media and grassroots civil societies and other organizations will gradually put a front to the inefficient and corrupt system, Anna Hazare’s recent crusade against corruption has been watched keenly by the Chinese. However, the Chinese argues that this is not a recent phenomenon as the democracy, free media, and grass root organizations have been there for over six decades, and the social issues are still not being addressed. One of my friend argued that the real source of these vices is poverty and above all the coalition government which gives a free hand to regional and smaller parties in governance, the scams such as 2G are unavoidable in multiparty democracy and coalition government.
Other issue which has been hotly debated in China about India is its population dividend. Here again Chinese argues that in order to realize this dividend one need to realize the universalization of education and industrialization in the country, otherwise one cannot talk of population dividend. The facts reveal that the local governments at least in the densely populated states such as UP and Bihar, are not enthusiastic about enhancing the education profile of their states, for it is the illiterates who queue in to vote for dynastic heirs not the educated ones. A journalist jots down in his blog that it was only owing to the western style of democracy during the Republican China that China lagged behind India, otherwise, if we took a glance at the history, China was always not only ahead of India but also many western countries. In the view of this, democracy has never been an option for China, neither would it be an option for future.
Another issue which has increasingly found currency in China is the transformation in the global political architecture with power increasingly shifting from the West to East, and India being talked of as one of the poles of economic development along with China. However, China considers India a sloppy, troubled, unhygienic and incoherent society that will take years to catch up with China. At the same time, Chinese are aware of the fact that in South Asia it is the only vibrant and self confident economy, which is the place to do business with; many Chinese enterprises have realized this point and are willing to invest in the Indian markets albeit their approach remains that of cautious partnership, moreover there is also a feeling that Chinese investment is not welcome in India.
Obviously, this is also the official view in China, and the government has managed to convince the general public that the Chinese model of development is the best, for it has achieved wonders for China in the shortest possible time. Three decades of economic miracle has made China extremely assertive regionally and globally. It has started to behave like a global player and is determined to prevent the rise of not only India but its partnership with other regional and global players like Japan, Vietnam, Australia and the US. China’s India policy including its propaganda is well laid; it is time for India to realize that it is the structure of the global politics that makes Sino-Indian rivalry inevitable. Many China experts feel that India need to play the balance of power game more seriously, and if necessary must learn it from China.
(The Writer Dr B R Deepak is Professor of Chinese and Dean, School of Languages Doon University. He could be reached at email@example.com)