In the middle of the twentieth century, India and China emerged from largely the same system of colonial tyranny. After more than seven decades, the two giants are holding each other’s collars.
What happened in June 2020 at Galwan, in the middle of a raging pandemic, was a sad and intense geopolitical event. Although the dust has started to settle, it will take a long time before the trust is fully restored. Or, who even knows if things will ever be the same again or not.
Indians are angry at China. And why not? Who comes knocking at your door and then decides to stay there while molesting you? Chinese aggression is something that needs to be fought tooth and nail. But in all this, is there any lesson that India needs to learn from the country on the other side of the McMohan line? I think, yes.
In 1950, India’s per capita income was $619, China’s per capita income was $439. Today, China’s per capita income is about 4 times that of India. Recently, China declared that it had lifted around 850 million people out of poverty. Most of them after 1978. India, until very recently, held the unenviable title of housing the largest population of ‘absolutely’ poor people in the world. Where did we go wrong?
The first lesson is in Human Development. According to the latest rankings released by UNDP, India ranks 131 out of 189 countries in the Human Development Index (HDI) rankings. China, on the other hand, stands at 85.
In the QS World University Rankings, China’s Tsinghua University ranks 15, whereas India’s best bet, the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IIT-B), comes at 172. With the New Education Policy, India hopes to bridge this gap.
India can take a leaf out of China’s book to boost the reforms and make the education system more competitive and dynamic. With the kind of demography India has, this has to be done on a priority basis.
Secondly, the might of China comes from its industries. Post-independence, China decided to go for labour-intensive industries. They decided to use the large, not so literate population to give a fillip to manufacturing.
Despite the failures like the Cultural Revolution and The Great Leap Forward, China today stands at a dominating position through its products. It is a hub of global manufacturing. India, on the other hand, decided to go for the capital-intensive industries. It did not use the concept of economies of scale.
While China under Deng Xiaoping was establishing Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in the 1980s to boost manufacturing and supply chains, India was battling with political instability and a ballooning fiscal deficit. India’s reluctance to Labour-led industrialisation has harmed it beyond just a dent.
Even after all this time, India should not have opted to drop out of RCEP. The deal could have helped India achieve its domestic industrial revolution in the long run. But we have never really given up our mindset of being the largest market.
India needs to learn from China how it can use its scale to become one of the world’s most efficient manufacturers and not just consumers. Yes, it is possible. The trust that India has retained using its soft diplomacy can very well be used to its advantage. And with the pandemic hammering every economy forcefully, India still has a credible chance to catch the bus.
Political will, coupled with easy money, can be a good start. In an article in the India Today magazine, Professor Kishore Mahbubani wrote, “No country has as great a gap between its potential and performance as India does.” I don’t think many people will dispute it.
To perform at its best, India needs to fill the fault lines in the infrastructure sector investment. China has, over the decades, invested rigorously in infrastructure. Recent ‘One Belt, One Road’ is a case in point.
Infrastructure not only makes it easier to live, but it also generates employment to the extent that no other sector can guarantee. The latest National Infrastructure Pipeline gives hope but being a snail will not help. Relentlessness should be the mantra.
Sun Tzu wrote, “To know your Enemy, you must become your enemy.” This Chinese doctrine can very well be used by India to defeat China. Of course, there are many flaws too in our neighbour: human rights violation, no freedom of the Press etc. I have no intention of denying that.
But at this hour, we need to gird up the loins and learn from where ever we can. We are struggling. Just closing our eyes will only help the cat eat us more easily. As our Prime Minister Narendra Modi fondly says that Indians know how to find a silver lining, it is precisely what we need to do now. The Elephant needs to learn something from the Dragon.