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Book Review: The Sino-Indian enigma

August 5, 2010

This book tracks the course the two neighbours
have traversed over the past 60 years
The Hindu
August 3, 2010

"INDIA AND CHINA - Neighbours, Strangers"
Edited by Ira Pande;
HarperCollins, A-53, Sector 57,
Noida-201301. Rs. 699.

China and India are widely seen as the rising
powers set to steer the U.S.-dominated
international arena towards Asian ascendancy in
this century. Indians, however, concede that
China has forged far ahead of India on a whole
gamut of indices — economic, social, military,
space, science and technology. Comparisons may be
odious, but they must spur the trailing
competitor on. The two countries were, more or
less, on a par when they set out on their
different courses six decades ago. India is not
aiming to catch up with China as a global
heavy-weight, but rather to consolidate itself as
a benign regional power with global influence.


A collection of 34 essays, this book tracks the
course the two neighbours have traversed over the
past 60 years. Apart from reminiscences, it
offers scholarly appraisals — historical,
sociological, and economic. China's youth and
women and Chinese settlers in Kolkata are in
focus in separate papers. The essay on university
students by Ravni Rai Thakur is revealing for the
light it throws on middle-class aspirations to
status and freedoms. Chinese nationalism figures
prominently, but so do corruption, inequality,
urbanisation, and class privilege. Some of the
articles grapple with the troubled relationship
between the two countries (tellingly conveyed by
the books' subtitle, "Neighbours Strangers") and
speculate on their linked future.

Among the contributors are some well-known names
like K.P.S. Menon, K. Subrahmanyam, Subramanian
Swamy, and Vikram Seth. Menon's Epilogue to his
Twilight on China (1972) and Seth's account of
desert-baked Turfan, Xinjiang — from his
delightful travel book, From Heaven's Lake (1984)
— are republished. The rest are special to this
issue of India International Centre's Quarterly.

Wary of U.S.-India ties

Scholars of Chinese origin, Indian academics, and
Western experts explicate the contrasting
fascination of India and China. Roderick
Macfarquhar has a valuable essay on Mao Zedong's
Cultural Revolution being superseded by Deng
Xioping's ethos of “get rich quick.” The author
argues that China's prodigious advances piloted
by the CCP mask latent weaknesses. Remarking that
the “ideological glue that bound the Maoist
structure has gone,” he contends that without the
party-state's “ideological justification, [there
is] a black hole at the centre of modern Chinese
history.” China, he reasons, will always be wary
of the U.S.-India alliance taking off, which will
preclude a warm Sino-Indian relationship. The
Chinese, hitherto disdainful of India as too
chaotic and weighed down by poverty, see the rise
of India since 1990 “with surprise and irritation.”

Many of the essays are highly informative and
analytical. Much is given, but much is left out
too: for instance, a critical survey of the
bilateral trade is missing. Trade has reportedly
increased to $50 billion a year. While India
exports minerals and primary products, it imports
machines and finished goods, which goes against
its interest. C.V. Ranganathan, India's former
ambassador to China, speaks of China's rapid
military modernisation including cyber-war
technology. This topic deserved fuller treatment.
Also, the PLA's policy and its influence in the
Politburo warrants a thorough and cool-headed
assessment. The economic papers cover known
trends and the conclusions are judicious, if
indeterminate. Last year (2009) proved to be
worryingly frictional for the bilateral
relations, thanks to a new assertive tone in
Chinese foreign policy and a hard-line on
Arunachal Pradesh. After the climate summit in
Copenhagen, where India and China worked
together, both sides have agreed to go cool on
their differences and pursue common interests by
exploring the vast potential for cooperation. As
Karan Singh says, some observers harp on the
adversarial nature of the relationship (“the
Eternal Enemy School”), while others, more
hopeful or wishful, back “the Chindia School.”
And those in-between are hard put to decide if
China's comprehensive support to Pakistan's
ambitions and its undermining of Indian influence
in Sri Lanka and Nepal are strategies to delay
the rise of India and oblige it to accept China
as the hegemon that must not be crossed. But many
of the authors agree that Tibet is a sensitive
issue. Andrew Fischer has a very informative and
thoughtful essay on Tibet, and P.S. Jha has also written insightfully on it.

Triangular interaction

Some of the other notable essays are: Dilip
Simeon's candid testimony as a Mao-supporter
disenchanted by state-capitalist China; Ashwani
Saith's rather pessimistic assessment of India,
wherein he points out that its presumptive
“demographic advantage” of a youthful population
depends on generating jobs first; Harsh Pant's
bracing realism, with no illusions about China's
will to world power; and K. Subrahmanyam's
tightly reasoned analysis leading to the
conclusion that a “triangular interaction between
the U.S., India and China will probably decide
the future of democracy as the dominant
international political value system, as well as
China's future as a one-party state." This is a
book to be warmly commended to anyone who wishes
to probe the Sino-Indian enigma.
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