Journalist-writer Martin Jacques truly believes , like the title of his book ‘When China Rules the World’, that a China-dominated world order is close at hand. In his revised edition of the bestseller , he’s added a chapter on India’s blow hot-blow cold ties with its largest Southeast Asian neighbour . Jacques tells ET’s Labonita Ghosh there is much India can learn from China about global ascendancy – if only we can get past the our paranoia and the war of 1962.
What will a China-dominated world order look like, and what will be India’s role in it?
China has reached this juncture in a great rush and in a very short space of time . But it’s also difficult to answer for many other reasons . We’re so familiar with a world that has been dominated by the West , it’s difficult for us to think outside that box . But I don’t think it’s right to assume that China will necessarily behave in the same way as the US.
I don’t think we should assume that China will throw its weight around militarily the way the US or the European nations have. Countries’ behaviours are influenced by their histories and cultures. Also China, like India, is demographically huge, and this is a characteristic of the new world in a wider sense, which is emerging. Alongside the rise of China, there is a rise of many demographically-large countries, like India, Brazil, Indonesia and such.
They’ve been largely excluded – for instance, they have no real power in the World Bank or the IMF – but now they’re going to be included in many different ways. Our ideas are so hugely shaped by the western experience that it becomes difficult for us to address the specificities of China.
I would argue that China is not a nation state, but a civilisation state ; its notions of sovereignty are very different from the western notions of sovereignty. India needs to get beyond 1962 because while China looms large in India’s thoughts, the Chinese don’t really think that much about India.
Instead, India needs to see China for what it really is – the country’s biggest trading partner, with one of the fastest-growing economies – and learn to engage with it. I don’t think [India] running off to the US is the solution to this problem, especially since the US is a declining power, particularly in Southeast Asia. India has to think strategically and needs to do that by learning from, and being engaged with, China, instead of being obsessed about it.
How will the inherent cultural differences between India and China play out in future?
Although there are many things India and China have in common – colonisation, development, making common cause in the BRIC formation – they have certain differences as well, which shouldn’t be ignored.
But I don’t think differences will lead to clashes. India and China show a lack of mutual comprehension : it’s difficult for China to understand India and vice versa. For instance, the state is the embodiment of Chinese civilisation. In India, the state is largely irrelevant since it’s a relatively new creation. And before 1962, there was no history of war between India and China.
This is a more specific incident relating to the dispute over the South China Sea, to which China (and Taiwan) lays historical claim, and India appears to have got involved in a rather incidental way.
The world we’re moving into is going to be a very different one, with intensified competition, particularly a fight for natural resources. So, having some clear rules and encouraging economic competition is an option. I think this could become a serious problem since both India and China would be the biggest players in the region.
A global power is defined by both its hard and soft power abilities. Does China make the cut?
China ticks the box of economic power, but not any of the other boxes. For instance, India has a significant element of soft power, so do the US (which leads in this) and the UK. China still does not enjoy significant political or soft power because it has arrived in this situation [of supremacy] in a rush. Half of its population still lives in the countryside; it is very much a developing country.
But economic power is precondition for political, intellectual, moral and military power. If you lose economic power, you lose the others. China doesn’t have any of these other ‘powers’, but it is beginning to acquire them. For instance, China is, without doubt, the biggest influence in the developing world when it comes to economic growth and transformation.
It provides the most remarkable example, bar none, in the reduction of poverty. This is a colossal achievement and has been acknowledge by economists like Joseph Stieglitz, the World Bank and others. So China does have these elements of soft power.
If China can rule the world, what’s holding India back from doing the same?
The key is economic growth and modernisation of the economy. China has been at this for over 30 years, at an average of 10 % growth a year, while in India, [the opening up and growth of the economy ] has been a much more recent event. If India could sustain about 7-8 % of relatively balanced and sustainable growth over a period of 20 years, then we’ll be having the same discussion about India.
My great hope is India will be a major global player. But it can learn something from China about this. The Chinese have been very pragmatic about (their economic growth ); they don’t boast or blow their own trumpet about it, nor do they dream. They just get on with it. India should too.
– Labonita Ghosh