Understanding China


By K G Suresh

While strategists view the growing Chinese proximity as indicative of its attempts to woo India away from its rivals, the fact also remains that it is essential for India to have a true understanding of China, one of the most influential powers in the world

The successful visit to China recently by a 14-member youth delegation led by BJP national secretary Siddharth Nath Singh marked yet another step in building better people-to-people understanding between the two Asian giants. The warm reception given to the delegation including representatives of leading Indian think-tanks during its 10-day tour in Hangzhou, Beijing and Chongqing by the International department of the Communist Party of China, the Chinese trade and industry bodies, think tanks, academics and the intelligentsia reflected a sincere attempt by Beijing to leave behind the past baggage and move ahead for mutual benefit. Of course, the Chinese effort is driven by its national interests where it is not only looking at India as a large market for its massive manufacturing base, a golden opportunity for its companies to meet India’s growing infrastructural needs but also as a friendly neighbour as it faces increasing isolation in its immediate neighbourhood.

The effort by the Communist Party of China to build bridges with what has always been perceived as “right wing, nationalist” political party and projected by Leftist parties back home as “revisionist and reactionary” also reflects China’s growing pragmatism wherein departing largely from the communist/Marxist model of society and economy, it has developed its own version described as “socialism with Chinese characteristics”. There is also a visible respect for India’s new leader Narendra Modi, who is often compared to China’s own President Xi Jinping, in terms of being decisive, charismatic and a strong leader.

Undoubtedly, there are serious issues with China including the festering border dispute, the ever-growing proximity with Pakistan, the trade deficit heavily tilted in Beijing’s favour, discrimination against Indian industry and these need to be addressed on a priority basis for a strong and stable relationship between the two countries in the long-run.

While strategists view the growing Chinese proximity as indicative of its attempts to woo India away from its rivals including Japan, Vietnam and of course the United States, the fact also remains that it is essential for India to have a true understanding of China, one of the most influential powers under the sun today, irrespective of whether it is perceived as a friend or foe.

As India embarks on a journey of growth, it is imperative to learn lessons from the world over, successes and failures, strengths and weaknesses, plans and strategies, mistakes and misconceptions, opportunities and challenges, and the experiences and experiments of the world’s most populated country and that too in the immediate neighbourhood simply cannot be ignored.

What is the Chinese development model all about? Can its development model be replicated in a democracy such as ours? What are the factors which contributed to the building of the new China? Is it just about policies and planning or also about how the Chinese as a people contributed to that growth? What has been the role of the private sector? Does the media play any significant role in a country where strict regulations are in place to check information dissemination, where even the internet including social media is under close scrutiny?

Ten days is too short to understand a country of continental dimensions such as China. Yet there are some general takeaways which can serve as a turning point in removing misconceptions and help in building bridges. To begin with, China is a living example of the falsification of the myth perpetrated since the Nehruvian era that English as a language is a pre-requisite for the nation’s development and without the Queen’s language, there is no redemption. China has developed much more than India without the English language and on the basis of a native language which is more pictorial in nature compared to the highly advanced Indian languages.

Infrastructure, infrastructure and infrastructure alone can lead to great industrial development. No turning of red tape into red carpet, creation of a single window system or packaging and marketing can give to the investor the sense of confidence that infrastructure gives. And to achieve that, one needs vision, not short-term but

long-term. Roads are not built for the coming year but keeping in view the expected requirements for the next several decades. Forget the national and provincial capitals, the roads and highways in cities, towns and even rural areas would be the envy of many a world capital. Thanks to the Eurasian Bridge, Chinese goods reach Germany thrice a week in 13 days through the rail route. Even provincial cities have airports of international standard.

It has often been said that humility is the hallmark of greatness and in all the interactions with the Chinese officials, one found an underlying humility and modesty wherein it was repeatedly emphasised that despite all the growth, China was a developing country and not a developed nation. There was little talk about China’s great past. All talk was about its future. This trait of self-criticism leading to revisiting of the ideology, plans and programmes are not only serving as morale boosters but also bringing about major changes in the society. From the opening up of the economy to private capital to reviewing the one child norm are reflective of this rare quality of introspection and innovation, so essential for nation building.

Again, there is a strong emphasis on the rule of the law. The focus is not on visible show of strength but instilling a sense of respect for the law of the land. In the city of Chongqing with an estimated population of 13 million, there are about 10,000 police personnel whereas back home in Delhi with an almost equal population, there are about 80,000 personnel. One could hardly see police personnel or vehicles or even traffic cops on the street yet violations, street fights etc are rare sights. While women are yet to reach top positions both within the party and the Government, one could see women moving without fear on the streets even at the dead of the night.

Nature has bestowed its bounty on India in terms of beauty yet when it comes to harnessing the same for promoting tourism, China shows the way. An ordinary lake, the like of which could be found in towns and cities across India, has been turned into a natural stage with an unparalleled outdoor performance. Impression West Lake in Hangzhou, whose soundtrack earned it nomination for the 52nd Grammy Award, is indeed a “scene in heaven and a dream on earth” which deserves to be improvised and emulated back home.

Acrobatic performances, performed by our street performers and circus artistes, who live in abject poverty, have been turned into high profile shows for domestic and foreign tourists in Beijing earning revenue and a decent livelihood for the performers.

There are also shortcomings. Along with the BMWs, there are beggars. Mammon is China’s new God. Salesgirls in China’s silk street can go to any extent to woo customers. Poverty is a reality in many parts of the country and pollution is on the rise. There is an ever-widening chasm between the rich and the poor and corruption has become a major national problem.

There are lessons galore for a developing country such as ours. There are many areas where the two countries can learn from each other and work towards the betterment of the lives of its peoples. This is possible only through enhanced interaction overcoming ideological biases and prejudices. Growing ties between the CPC and the BJP is a right step in that direction.

(The author is Senior Fellow and Editor with the Vivekananda International Foundation)