To borrow a line from the nuns in that old musical, how do you solve a problem like China?

It isn’t a will o’ the wisp that’ll go away; it isn’t a clown, though it might think the rest of us are. It is a worry for the world and a headache for India.

The Economist, which is now a weekly must-read for trend analysts everywhere, ran a special survey recently on ‘The Dangers of a Rising China’. Several Asia-watchers have written volumes full of anxiety. One by Martin Jacques, titled ‘When China Rules the World’, declares in its subtitle: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order. China’s influence, says Jacques, will extend well beyond the economic sphere. It will have social, cultural and political repercussions.

Chinese leaders talk of its “peaceful rise”. On the surface, it would seem so. China doesn’t have naked colonial aspirations like erstwhile imperial powers, it generally works through multinational groupings, not unilaterally, in world affairs, and it has gone out of its way to settle border disputes with many neighbours. Still, it houses 20 per cent of the human race, will soon become the world’s largest economy and maintains the biggest standing army of any nation. And it is ultra-nationalistic.

A prickly nationalism has replaced communism as the driving ideology of the party-controlled Chinese state. It has indeed settled several border disputes; yet, when it deals with, for instance, Japan or India it bares its teeth over territorial claims. It skirmishes with Japan on the seas. It demands chunks of Indian territory and makes whimsically aggressive gestures over granting visas to Indians.

Its almost hysterical reaction to the award of a Nobel peace prize to Liu Xiaobo, an imprisoned dissident, is an example of a disturbing paranoia. Instead of brushing off the award as something that mattered little, it snarled through an official organ that the members of the Nobel committee were a bunch of “clowns”. In fact, that would be an apt description of the pathetic bunch of 18 or so dictatorships and eccentric nations that it rounded up to boycott the award.

– Gautam Adhikari