Changing tides: China and India-by If Only Singaporeans Stopped to Think



CHINA and India are old civilisations. When the Portuguese and the Spanish braved the oceans at the end of the 15th century, it was to find alternative routes to the east - to India, the Spice Islands and China. One was often confused for the other, with native Americans called 'Indians' by Columbus. For the Middle East and South-east Asia, however, China and India reside deep in the historical memory, going back to the mist of early times.

The current rise of China and India is but a re-emergence of ancient peoples on the global stage. In recent centuries, both came to be dominated by Western powers. India was fully colonised; China partially so. Each responded in a different way according to its own nature and circumstances. As they become major powers again, the Western domination of the world will recede. A multipolar reality will define this century, as was indeed the case for much of human history. Provided human beings do not go mad again, the prospects for peace and development in the coming decades are good.
China is not likely to become an imperial power in the pattern of the West. That it should become more self-confident and assertive is to be expected, even militarily. But it would go against the grain for China to seek colonisation and the conversion of others to Chineseness.It is unlikely that China and the United States will go to war despite inevitable conflict of interest. While trials of strength there will be episodically, China will not be encroaching on distant countries the way the Western powers and Japan encroached on China in the past. (China's relationship with its neighbours on the border like Korea, Mongolia, Central Asia and Vietnam is a different matter. Depending on the cycles of Chinese dynasties, they were either a part of the empire, its enemies or in its penumbra.) China will fight to defend its interests but it is unlikely to be aggressive like the European powers during the age of colonialism. From this perspective, the way Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping conducted his recent visit to the US was in keeping with an old pattern of behaviour.
Both China and India have been described as civilisational states. But while historical China has often been a strong state, historical India was frequently not, and certainly never over the entire sub-continent until the British arrived. India's internal divisions facilitated its colonisation by the British.
India's heterogeneity stands in sharp contrast to China's homogeneity, where Han people make up over 90 per cent of the population. Since India's independence, more states have been created to better reflect its diverse makeup. In China, provincial lines have historically been drawn to prevent sub-groups from becoming too powerful.
India's politics therefore has a different rhythm from China's. There is no central order to overthrow and replace. To paraphrase Amartya Sen, the Indian is endlessly argumentative. Indian history is fractured with details.
India has one critical long-term advantage over China which is its demographic profile. China's population will reach about 1.5 or 1.6 billion, after which its population will decline like Japan's. Although the Chinese government is relaxing population control, the declining birth rate is hard to reverse.
In terms of organic growth, China is like a magnificent Californian redwood adding height each year. India, in contrast, is more akin to a big bush, growing all over the place. What keeps the bush coherent are its roots in Indian civilisation, a deep common Hindu-Jain-Buddhist substrate with relatively recent Mughal-British overlays. In the Hindu pantheon, there are 300 million deities. That number says something about the Indian mind and its acceptance of diversity.
At one level, because of the English language and Anglo-Saxon institutions, India seems much more like the West than China. However, despite being closer to the US than China, India will not be used by the US against China unless this is in its own interest. On issues like world trade, climate change, Iran, Afghanistan and Myanmar, India is often prepared to take positions opposed to the US. India will cooperate with China for mutual benefit. Both are part of the Bric (Brazil, Russia, India, China) grouping which holds regular summits. In return for China supporting India as an observer in SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation), India supports China as an observer in SAARC (South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation).
Apart from the 1962 War, there has been no major conflict between China and India.The high Himalayas separated them, and in Central and South-east Asia, smaller states provide a wide buffer.
The Buddhist connection is well- known. Over the centuries, through the silk routes, the two civilisations learnt from each other philosophy, mathematics and astronomy to practical subjects like meditative practices, ship design and sugar-making.
The political relationship lags behind the economic relationship. China is already India's biggest trading partner. Bilateral trade exceeded US$70 billion (S$88 billion) last year and is expected to hit US$100 billion in 2015. Road, rail, air and electronic connections have greatly improved to the Tibetan plateau and China wants to link them to Indian networks through the mountain passes. With Myanmar opening up, South-east Asia will again become a major connector between China and India. Chinese cities like Chongqing and Kunming are eager for political obstacles to be removed because of their geographical positions. Kolkata will benefit hugely too as it is less than a thousand kilometres by road from Lhasa and a little over two hours by air from Kunming. When Japan controlled the Chinese coast, it was from Bengal and Bihar through Burma and over the Hump that Kuomintang China was kept supplied.
India's fear of Pakistan complicates the bilateral relationship between China and India. From worrying about Pakistan, India now worries for Pakistan. This is a profound change in India's attitude. While bilateral relations between India and Pakistan are far from normal, they have improved considerably. China in turn maintains a careful balance between historical friendship with Pakistan and its growing economic and political relationship with India.
The Sino-Indian relationship may become as important as the Sino-US relationship in global affairs. Together China and India make up 40 per cent of the world's population and will probably supply more than half its brainpower. In every field of human endeavour, how Chinese and Indians work together will matter a great deal. Their current role in Silicon Valley presages the world that is to come.
Over the long run, it is the cultural relationship between China and India that will matter most. Today, they frequently stereotype each other. Coming from Singapore where the mandalas of China and India overlap, to use Wang Gungwu's elegant phrase, there is clearly considerable prejudice and misunderstanding between them. At the same time, each doffs its hat to the other as an ancient civilisation.If China and India can maintain stable relations in the coming decades, there is great hope for the future. It is not too optimistic to envisage an Asia-Pacific region stretching across the Pacific to India with over 60 per cent of the world's population living in relative peace and enjoying economic development for years to come.
If instead China and India are locked in confrontation, the future will be troubled. We must expect some third parties to sow seeds of discord between them. Working for good long-term relations between China and India is therefore a worthwhile cause.
China and India as connected but separate poles will make a multipolar world more stable. In such a dispensation, smaller countries will enjoy greater autonomy of action.
In a modest contribution to better long-term Sino-Indian relations, Amartya Sen, Sugata Bose, myself and others have been promoting the revival of Nalanda University. For centuries it was a centre of learning which brought learned people, mostly Buddhist monks, from all parts of Asia together. This project has been blessed by leaders of the East Asian Summit which now includes the US. An Asia in peace and playing a bigger role in world affairs will also help untangle the knotted problems in the Middle East.
The influence of China and India in the Middle East is bound to grow. While this weakens the West's position in the nearer term, Asia's rise will relax tensions in the longer term, which is good for the West. Iranians, Arabs, ayatollahs, sheikhs and Muslim Brothers will all feel less trapped in what is often now seen as a Manichean conflict with the West. The view of China and India from the Middle East is very different from that of the US and Europe. Perhaps to make the point, the first countries Saudi King Abdullah visited when he became king were China and India, with Malaysia as the third. Because of history and proximity, India's role in shaping the future of the Middle East will be greater than that of China. China's advantage is its veto power on the UN Security Council.
The simultaneous re-emergence of China and India on the global stage is lifting not only Asia. The contribution of growing Asian middle classes to global investment and consumption is increasing yearly. With their favourable resource-to-population ratio, Latin America and Africa are bound to benefit
For developed countries, the rise of Asia is both a threat and an opportunity. Many individuals face increased competition. They have to work harder and maybe for less pay. Existing government benefits cannot be sustained. In contrast, those with knowledge, capital and networks profit from cheaper access to land and labour overseas, selling to growth markets. As income distribution worsens, the politics in many developed countries sour and forging a common response to new challenges becomes harder.
The tides are changing regardless of whom the winners and losers are. Whether as countries, corporations, congregations, tribes, families or individuals, how we reposition ourselves for the ebbs and flows will decisively affect our chances of success. Of course nothing is inevitable in human affairs. For example, we do not know what new eruption may occur in the Middle East. The Iranian nuclear programme is an obvious concern. There also the unknown unknowns. The biggest mistake is clinging to old positions in the hope that what is happening is transient and will blow away. It will not because what we are witnessing is a sea change.

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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Changing tides: China and India-by If Only Singaporeans Stopped to Think


CHINA and India are old civilisations. When the Portuguese and the Spanish braved the oceans at the end of the 15th century, it was to find alternative routes to the east - to India, the Spice Islands and China. One was often confused for the other, with native Americans called 'Indians' by Columbus. For the Middle East and South-east Asia, however, China and India reside deep in the historical memory, going back to the mist of early times.

The current rise of China and India is but a re-emergence of ancient peoples on the global stage. In recent centuries, both came to be dominated by Western powers. India was fully colonised; China partially so. Each responded in a different way according to its own nature and circumstances. As they become major powers again, the Western domination of the world will recede. A multipolar reality will define this century, as was indeed the case for much of human history. Provided human beings do not go mad again, the prospects for peace and development in the coming decades are good.
China is not likely to become an imperial power in the pattern of the West. That it should become more self-confident and assertive is to be expected, even militarily. But it would go against the grain for China to seek colonisation and the conversion of others to Chineseness.It is unlikely that China and the United States will go to war despite inevitable conflict of interest. While trials of strength there will be episodically, China will not be encroaching on distant countries the way the Western powers and Japan encroached on China in the past. (China's relationship with its neighbours on the border like Korea, Mongolia, Central Asia and Vietnam is a different matter. Depending on the cycles of Chinese dynasties, they were either a part of the empire, its enemies or in its penumbra.) China will fight to defend its interests but it is unlikely to be aggressive like the European powers during the age of colonialism. From this perspective, the way Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping conducted his recent visit to the US was in keeping with an old pattern of behaviour.
Both China and India have been described as civilisational states. But while historical China has often been a strong state, historical India was frequently not, and certainly never over the entire sub-continent until the British arrived. India's internal divisions facilitated its colonisation by the British.
India's heterogeneity stands in sharp contrast to China's homogeneity, where Han people make up over 90 per cent of the population. Since India's independence, more states have been created to better reflect its diverse makeup. In China, provincial lines have historically been drawn to prevent sub-groups from becoming too powerful.
India's politics therefore has a different rhythm from China's. There is no central order to overthrow and replace. To paraphrase Amartya Sen, the Indian is endlessly argumentative. Indian history is fractured with details.
India has one critical long-term advantage over China which is its demographic profile. China's population will reach about 1.5 or 1.6 billion, after which its population will decline like Japan's. Although the Chinese government is relaxing population control, the declining birth rate is hard to reverse.
In terms of organic growth, China is like a magnificent Californian redwood adding height each year. India, in contrast, is more akin to a big bush, growing all over the place. What keeps the bush coherent are its roots in Indian civilisation, a deep common Hindu-Jain-Buddhist substrate with relatively recent Mughal-British overlays. In the Hindu pantheon, there are 300 million deities. That number says something about the Indian mind and its acceptance of diversity.
At one level, because of the English language and Anglo-Saxon institutions, India seems much more like the West than China. However, despite being closer to the US than China, India will not be used by the US against China unless this is in its own interest. On issues like world trade, climate change, Iran, Afghanistan and Myanmar, India is often prepared to take positions opposed to the US. India will cooperate with China for mutual benefit. Both are part of the Bric (Brazil, Russia, India, China) grouping which holds regular summits. In return for China supporting India as an observer in SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation), India supports China as an observer in SAARC (South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation).
Apart from the 1962 War, there has been no major conflict between China and India.The high Himalayas separated them, and in Central and South-east Asia, smaller states provide a wide buffer.
The Buddhist connection is well- known. Over the centuries, through the silk routes, the two civilisations learnt from each other philosophy, mathematics and astronomy to practical subjects like meditative practices, ship design and sugar-making.
The political relationship lags behind the economic relationship. China is already India's biggest trading partner. Bilateral trade exceeded US$70 billion (S$88 billion) last year and is expected to hit US$100 billion in 2015. Road, rail, air and electronic connections have greatly improved to the Tibetan plateau and China wants to link them to Indian networks through the mountain passes. With Myanmar opening up, South-east Asia will again become a major connector between China and India. Chinese cities like Chongqing and Kunming are eager for political obstacles to be removed because of their geographical positions. Kolkata will benefit hugely too as it is less than a thousand kilometres by road from Lhasa and a little over two hours by air from Kunming. When Japan controlled the Chinese coast, it was from Bengal and Bihar through Burma and over the Hump that Kuomintang China was kept supplied.
India's fear of Pakistan complicates the bilateral relationship between China and India. From worrying about Pakistan, India now worries for Pakistan. This is a profound change in India's attitude. While bilateral relations between India and Pakistan are far from normal, they have improved considerably. China in turn maintains a careful balance between historical friendship with Pakistan and its growing economic and political relationship with India.
The Sino-Indian relationship may become as important as the Sino-US relationship in global affairs. Together China and India make up 40 per cent of the world's population and will probably supply more than half its brainpower. In every field of human endeavour, how Chinese and Indians work together will matter a great deal. Their current role in Silicon Valley presages the world that is to come.
Over the long run, it is the cultural relationship between China and India that will matter most. Today, they frequently stereotype each other. Coming from Singapore where the mandalas of China and India overlap, to use Wang Gungwu's elegant phrase, there is clearly considerable prejudice and misunderstanding between them. At the same time, each doffs its hat to the other as an ancient civilisation.If China and India can maintain stable relations in the coming decades, there is great hope for the future. It is not too optimistic to envisage an Asia-Pacific region stretching across the Pacific to India with over 60 per cent of the world's population living in relative peace and enjoying economic development for years to come.
If instead China and India are locked in confrontation, the future will be troubled. We must expect some third parties to sow seeds of discord between them. Working for good long-term relations between China and India is therefore a worthwhile cause.
China and India as connected but separate poles will make a multipolar world more stable. In such a dispensation, smaller countries will enjoy greater autonomy of action.
In a modest contribution to better long-term Sino-Indian relations, Amartya Sen, Sugata Bose, myself and others have been promoting the revival of Nalanda University. For centuries it was a centre of learning which brought learned people, mostly Buddhist monks, from all parts of Asia together. This project has been blessed by leaders of the East Asian Summit which now includes the US. An Asia in peace and playing a bigger role in world affairs will also help untangle the knotted problems in the Middle East.
The influence of China and India in the Middle East is bound to grow. While this weakens the West's position in the nearer term, Asia's rise will relax tensions in the longer term, which is good for the West. Iranians, Arabs, ayatollahs, sheikhs and Muslim Brothers will all feel less trapped in what is often now seen as a Manichean conflict with the West. The view of China and India from the Middle East is very different from that of the US and Europe. Perhaps to make the point, the first countries Saudi King Abdullah visited when he became king were China and India, with Malaysia as the third. Because of history and proximity, India's role in shaping the future of the Middle East will be greater than that of China. China's advantage is its veto power on the UN Security Council.
The simultaneous re-emergence of China and India on the global stage is lifting not only Asia. The contribution of growing Asian middle classes to global investment and consumption is increasing yearly. With their favourable resource-to-population ratio, Latin America and Africa are bound to benefit
For developed countries, the rise of Asia is both a threat and an opportunity. Many individuals face increased competition. They have to work harder and maybe for less pay. Existing government benefits cannot be sustained. In contrast, those with knowledge, capital and networks profit from cheaper access to land and labour overseas, selling to growth markets. As income distribution worsens, the politics in many developed countries sour and forging a common response to new challenges becomes harder.
The tides are changing regardless of whom the winners and losers are. Whether as countries, corporations, congregations, tribes, families or individuals, how we reposition ourselves for the ebbs and flows will decisively affect our chances of success. Of course nothing is inevitable in human affairs. For example, we do not know what new eruption may occur in the Middle East. The Iranian nuclear programme is an obvious concern. There also the unknown unknowns. The biggest mistake is clinging to old positions in the hope that what is happening is transient and will blow away. It will not because what we are witnessing is a sea change.

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