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Chinese Dream vs Indian Dream: Advantages and Constraints

Dec 19 , 2013

The Chinese dream concept was proposed after the 18th CPC Congress, with the interim objective of creating a well-off society by 2020 and the goal of achieving great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation by 2050. The international community has given much attention and discussed about the favorable conditions and constraints for China to materialize such a vision. Many commentators and analysts have attempted to compare the Chinese dream with the Indian dream.

Ma Jiali

As early as before Indian independence, Jawaharlal Nehru, leader of India’s nationalist movement, talked about India’s lofty ideal in The Discovery of India, a book of far-reaching influence. He wrote, India “cannot play a secondary role in the world…she will either count for a great deal or not count at all.” He also said, “India is a potential great nation and strong country. This is not our ambition but only a fact.” The ideal expressed by Nehru as a national objective constitutes the core of the Indian dream.

Since the beginning of the new century, the strategic community in India has been debating more about the country’s position in the world. They argue that India should become at the least “one of the six top power centers in the world”, “join the management team of the international community” or “take a VIP seat in the international community”. In the past two years, some Indians also talked about becoming one of the top three in the world, i.e., India immediately following the US and China.

Honestly, India and China have rather similar basic national conditions and the two are at roughly the same stage of development. India has many unique advantages such as political democracy, legal system, financial management, English education, entrepreneurship, demography and specialized industrial sectors, which are the basis for Indians to desire the status of a big and strong country. However, while seeing India’s advantages, we also need to see China’s comparative advantages. Indian economist and Nobel laureate Amartya Kumar Sen admitted that “China has much higher values of most social indicators of living standards, such as life expectancy, infant mortality rate, mean years of schooling, or the coverage of immunization” and that “India’s gap with China is widening rather than narrowing down”. Former Indian Navy Chief Admiral Arun Prakash wrote about his visit to Shanghai and claimed, “India is steadily losing ground to China in every index of development and progress, largely due to poor governance.”

In the past decade and more, India has registered remarkable development, with ever-increasing economic strength, markedly stronger military capabilities, greater diplomatic vitality and higher overall strategic status. Nonetheless, India is still confronted with many in-depth constraints and various chronic illnesses and persistent ailments are still plaguing its development process. To realize the Indian dream, a host of constraints and burdens have to be overcome.

In terms of governance, India is a democracy and the great majority of people accept the existing political system albeit with major doubts over the government’s decision-making efficiency. With the many political parties, representing different interest groups and leading to discounted decision-making capability and implementation efficiency. In many cases, the governmant is not able to formulate due development plans. When plans are made, they are difficult to implement due to partisan politics, demonstrating a “functional anarchy” in India.

In the economic field, there are apparent deviations in the Indian industrial structure. The proportion of manufacturing in the overall national economy does not match the development need of a populous country. Industrial sectors do not offer enough jobs for the increasing labor force. Infrastructure construction seriously lags behind. Roads, railways, airports, ports and telecommunication networks cannot satisfy the increasing needs of the people and dampen investor enthusiasm.

In terms of social contradictions, India is severely polarized, with both super rich people and the extremely poor. Homeless wanderers and slums are seen in all Indian cities. According to Indian media, 66% of the Indian population live below poverty line and over 300 million people are in absolute poverty, indicating potential danger of major social upheavals. Furthermore, the caste system, which seriously undermines human value and dignity, remains extensive in the rural areas. There are also fairly serious disputes among different religious sects, with violent clashes from time to time.

China and India are both developing countries with the arduous task of rapidly developing their national economies, improving their people’s livelihood and moving out of poverty. As close neighbors, the two countries should respect and trust each other, stay on friendly terms with and learn from each other and give full play to their complementarity in the pursuit of their respective dreams.

Ma Jiali is the Executive Deputy Director & Senior Researcher for the Center for Strategic Studies at the China Reform Forum.

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