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 Chinese government might not be able to play a prominent role in Nepal for now, given both Indian dominance and sensitivities. However, China appears to be using its provinces such as Tibet, Yunnan and Sichuan to exercise influence in a different, apparently less threatening way.
The major objective of China’s diplomatic strategy in Nepal has been to ensure that Kathmandu blocked the flow of Tibetan refugees into its territory. In November 2014, the frontier police force in Tibet and the armed police and fire department of Nepal conducted a joint exercise and during his visit to Nepal the following month, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi also laid the foundation stone for a police academy gifted to Nepal to train officers of its Armed Police Force that guards districts bordering Tibet. The number of Tibetans entering Nepal from China, it must be noted, has fallen from about 2,500 in 2008 to just about 200 in 2014.Continue reading Chinese Provinces and Nepal: The Case of Tibet Autonomous Region→
Of the predictions that came true, more sister-province/state and sister-city agreements, announcement of a new visa arrangement, an India-China Think-tank Forum.
It is now slowly but increasingly evident to Indians across the board that China, their largest neighbour, will likely be their most important foreign policy challenge for decades to come. Gradually but surely, China will come to occupy regular attention in India across a range of fields from geopolitics to scientific research and development to political and ideological creativity. In this context, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s forthcoming visit to China and the media coverage it will generate will be an important milestone in how Indians perceive and understand China.
Modi has gained a reputation for extreme secrecy and last minute ‘deals’ during visits abroad. China, however, will not be such an easy place to do this. Unless, of course, CPC General Secretary and Chinese President, Xi Jinping, is willing to play ball. This however, is unlikely, given the Chinese self-image of being in a league of just two, contending with the US for regional and global domination while everybody else is for all practical purposes, and despite any rhetoric to the contrary, slotted into lower tiers of importance.
Symbolism is often as important as the essentials in conveying the magnitude of an event – especially when the eyes of the world are focused on it. The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to receive the Chinese President Xi Jinping in Ahmedabad and establish a personal rapport in a culturally resonant setting with brisk economic undertones, before moving on to the capital, New Delhi, has certainly added the element which elevates the tenor and adds a dash of élan to this meeting between two of the most important leaders of Asia today. It will likely set the template for the relations between the two countries, at least for the next five years. The statements and body language of both these leaders will thus be closely scrutinized. Continue reading Xi visits India: Great Expectations→
With a still young political leadership in both China and India, economic ties will be a major plank of the India-China relationship. Even as the burgeoning trade deficit for India is a major bilateral problem, the two countries are also trying to lay fresh sinews in their relationship through Chinese-assisted infrastructure development in India. What is also important to note that is that much of these economic interactions are or will be increasingly negotiated at the sub-national level. Continue reading Sino-Indian Sub-National Economic Ties: Changing the Game→
कम्युनिस्ट पार्टी ऑफ चाइना (सीपीसी) की 18 वीं सेंट्रल कमिटी की तीसरी प्लेनरी (विशेषाधिकार प्राप्त महत्वपूर्ण और वरिष्ठ सदस्यों की सभा) इस महीने आयोजित हुई। इस प्लीनम (महासभा) में सेंट्रल कमिटी के 205 सदस्यों के अलावा 171 अन्य सदस्य होते हैं जो महत्वपूर्ण नीतिगत मसलों पर चर्चा कर किसी नतीजे पर पहुंचते हैं। किसी भी सेंट्रल कमिटी की तीसरी प्लीनम का महत्व इसलिए है कि नया नेतृत्व प्राय: इसका उपयोग अपनी नई आर्थिक नीतियों की घोषणा करने के अवसर के रूप में करता है। Continue reading 3rd Plenum, 18th CC: A Reformist Agenda but Challenges Ahead→
China has a total of 31 administrative units directly below the central government in Beijing – 22 provinces, five autonomous regions and four provincial-level cities – all of equal rank in the administrative hierarchy, if not always in political terms. In addition, Hong Kong and Macao form separate Special Administrative Regions. While Chinese provinces do not have powers that inherently belong to them by law and whatever powers they exercise are delegated from the centre, they constantly lobby the centre for resources and for greater flexibility in formulating and implementing policy. Indeed, flexibility is a hallmark of Chinese political processes and institutions.
The Constitution of China adopted in December 1982 is clear in stating that “[t]he People’s Republic of China is a unitary multi-national state built up jointly by the people of all its nationalities” but China’s history has shown that to ensure a functioning national polity, the province needed to exercise sufficient authority to institutionalize and to oversee local government. While there is a need for strong state capacity it has to exist as much at the local level as at the central level. Provinces are crucial to building up state institutional capacity at the local level. While each new regime in Chinese history tried, on assuming power, to centralize power and limit provincial autonomy, it eventually had to seek the assistance of provincial governments to maintain the credibility of the government at the centre. Centre-province relations, before the communist revolution in China and since, have thus followed a pattern of centralization and decentralization.
Stronger and more autonomous provincial economies have in the reform era, led to increasingly assertive provincial governments but to assume this has come entirely at the expense of the central government is a mistake. Increased provincial assertion could also mean increased inter-provincial competition or intra-provincial competition, necessitating a strong central government that can play the role of arbitrator. Indeed, ties between the centre and the provinces have seen greater institutionalization due to structural changes introduced during the reform era but this does not imply that the central government has become more powerful vis-à-vis the provinces or vice-versa. Meanwhile, there are additional trends in China that have implications for the administrative, economic and political structure of China. These include the rise of trans-provincial economic groupings such as the Yantze River Delta and the Pearl River Delta regions as also the rise of major cities as powerful political and economic actors in their own right. Centre-province relations in China are therefore, headed towards still greater complexity.
With the exception of the 1962 conflict almost everything else about China is seen and understood in India through Western eyes. But, isn’t China, like India, a country of over a billion people? Why then suppose that anybody could understand the Chinese and their problems better than we Indians could? Who but Indians can really grasp the incredible complexities and myriad problems of a billion people living under one flag?
As Shakespeare’s Shylock might have continued asking, does China not have corruption and police brutality, unemployment and inflation, farmers committing suicide and migrant workers shivering in the cold? Does China not have a weak government and coalition politics, ethnic conflict and environmental protests?