Originally published as Jabin T. Jacob, ‘China’s Provinces and Foreign Policy: Lessons and Implications for India and its States’ in Subir Bhaumik (ed.), Agartala Doctrine: A Proactive Northeast in India Foreign Policy (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2016), pp. 253-70.
Even without their rising world profiles as a starting point, it has long been a common enough exercise to compare and contrast India and China at various stages since the end of the Second World War. While the two nations started out under their new leaderships as developing nations united against colonialism and attempted for a time to work together as beacons for Asian rejuvenation, the realities of geopolitics, differing viewpoints about history and civilization and the remnants of imperial legacies soon resulted in a short border conflict in 1962 that however has cast a long shadow on their relations.
During the Cold War, the contrast between the two countries was also political and ideological and for a time, especially in the wake of revelations about Chinese communist excesses of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, it was assumed that India with its regular elections was doing much better than China was. However, despite its problems, communist China also raised considerably the social and human development indicators of its people while India continued to remain mired in poverty, illiteracy and various forms of social backwardness. There was also the brief interregnum of Emergency, which also tarnished India’s reputation as a paragon of democratic virtues in the developing world.
However, none of these developments and contrasts was nearly as consequential as those that would come following the beginning of China’s economic reforms and opening up in the late 1970s. By the time India started its own economic liberalization programme in 1991, China had started opening up a gap with India on the economic front in addition to the lead in social indicators that it already held. At the turn of the millennium, China could genuinely claim the mantle of a rising world power in both political and economic terms, while India was struggling to shake off the international opprobrium that came in the wake of its 1998 nuclear tests and to get into the same high economic gear as the Chinese had. Both its growing economy and a combination of international circumstances involving worries about China’s perceived challenge to the United States as well as its rapid military modernization combined to make India attractive again to the world at large before the 2008 financial crisis and government paralysis combined to put the brakes on India’s economic growth again, if not quite its political importance. Nevertheless, the India story also now appears to have a momentum of its own with a young demographic, active state governments and an economy unburdened by the shackles of an earlier command economy and free to make the adjustments to domestic and global circumstances as necessary.
The purpose of this chapter is to examine in more detail the role of Chinese provinces in the country’s growth story and to see how this experience can be a learning experience for Indian states.