A Different Path for a Powerful March of India and China in the 21st Century

    India vs. China, The Western Paradigm

    India vs. China has become a topic of numerous articles and discussion for the past decade or so for a variety of reasons, not only for their large populations but more recently for their growing global economic influence and military prowess, and on what environmental fall out is going to be from the continued development of India and China.

    While there is a substantial presence of Chinese and Indian people in the Western countries, particularly in the United States, there is very little cultural impact of India or China in the United States, except for some influence of Buddhism mainly because of Dalai Lama and obsession with Chinese herbal medicine and Indian yoga for health reasons.

    In the current intellectual discourse, India and China are projected as rivals, vying for regional power and economic advantage. One fact is generally ignored that the two countries have co-existed for millennia. Six hundred years ago, Sino-Indian share of world GDP was about 75%. As late as 1700 India and China together shared about 46% of world GDP (China 23% and India 23%), there was no apparent envy, let alone any conflicts unless perhaps British took over India and developed some land disputes with China.

    Current share of world GDP for China and India is about 6% on nominal basis (20% on PPP basis), which is a lot more than what it was in 1947 when India secured its independence. Both countries adopted pro-people ideologies, socialism in India and communism in China. Interestingly, the two economies did not move much till about 1979 when China decided to open its economy and adopt more of a capitalistic approach to invite FDI which has resulted in today's China.

    India decided only in early 1990s to free up the state control of much of its economy and subsequently has opened up its economy to multinationals quite embracingly within the past seven years or so. The results have been dramatic for India not only because its economy is growing about 8% for the past several years, but a democratic India is more visible in the media for its free press and population..

    The interest of the Western world in India and China goes back to ancient times, but even in the modern times, India and China have been looked upon in a typical Western binary vision. Unfortunately, the two countries have complied with this vision for a variety reasons. And, the 1962 war has cemented this vision permanently in the memory of generations that followed, particularly in India, where it is widely accepted that India lost the war badly. The fact that the land dispute that apparently led to the war and also that resulted from the war has not been solved till today remains a continuous reinforcement of adversarial relationship between the two countries.

    India and China, Current Intellectual Constructs

    Both India and China are very old civilizations without any history of animosity and conflicts, which would have been impossible if these two countries followed the binary vision of the Western world. Some may suggest that the two countries could not have conflicts primarily because of the Himalayan height, but that could not be true considering the fact that two countries have had extensive cultural and even economic interactions.

    To repeat ancient practice of peaceful and harmonious neighborly living between India and China, the challenge is not for the political leaders, who have come to represent a corrupt class throughout the world, but to the intellectual class in both the countries. They need to trace back their history critically, perhaps following their own cultures of learning and leading. That is not just a need for these two countries but a need of the hour for the rest of the world trapped in the cycle of violence and suffering.

    The challenge of learning from their past is a formidable task for the intellectuals of both India and China, although for entirely different reasons.

    China has adopted and practiced the Marxist ideology of materialism for about 60 years. It has gone through a cultural revolution wiping out millions of people, and with them millions of examples of traditional ideas. And, despite the failure of economic ideas of Marxist theory it has developed an entrenched political system based on the infrastructure meant to implement the communist philosophy. As is true throughout the history, rulers showing hypocrisy have been removed all the time, but most of the time violently. Given the flexibility shown by the communist leadership in opening the Chinese economy, and the experience in reaping its benefit, it is quite possible that the grip of the political leadership will be loosened towards more free society for sustained growth. Intellectuals will have to assert and also be given freedom to think beyond the current framework of mind.

    India, on the other hand, experimented socialism in combination with democracy, the only form of governance possible, given diversity of its people in terms of languages, religions, culture, and history. Two hundred years long British rule of India has left India's intellectuals with subservient mindset, looking up to the Western scholars for guidance and approval. India's political system is a hodge-podge of British form of parliamentary democracy and American system of a President as head of the state. It has attempted to translate many a term from the Western philosophy of governance to Indian life, most of the time at odds with Indian ethos. So, despite being a democratic country with free press, judiciary, and people, its constitution, education system, and its governance structure have remained derivative of a Western way of looking at things through the glass of binary vision.

    The challenge for Indian intellectuals is to try to quickly reach the pinnacle of the essence of Western thought process so that they will get an opportunity to look back at their own heritage without the bogey of a subservient mind. How fast this process could occur is anyone's guess. However, given the role today's globalization is playing, a substantial fraction of Indian population of India is moving towards being accepted as a leader in Westernized capitalism, English language and literature, and is developing a cultural mindset of Westernized society.

    India and China will have to find some common ground, preferably some common cause, to work together for some common good. There have been some moves along with Russia to build a coalition of triangular group to counter the sole superpower in the world. However, that has not worked so far, in part because all the three countries have dependence on the United States in more than one ways. Moreover, there are major problems amongst themselves as well, especially between India and China. As it overtly stands today the three countries share little philosophically, economically, and strategically. There is no common outlook, there is no common goal, such as a joint drive in confronting a menace to all three countries. US is too much of a free and sophisticated country to be considered such a menace.

    So, what is needed is a proactive effort on the part of India and China to develop their own ideas of moving up their societies with cooperation for mutual benefits that can become a model for rest of the world. This is likely to bring the old glory the two civilizations shared with others that attracted Europeans to their shores.

    India, China's Ancient Ideal

    China and India, according to Tan Chung, an Indian citizen of Chinese descent, and son of Tan Yunshan, the founder of the Sino-Indian Cultural Society in 1934, observed "Some time around 1957, Chairman Mao Zedong startled his hosts in the Indian Embassy, Beijing, by his after-dinner witty talk that 'every Chinese wished to reincarnate in India after death.'

    Explaining a historical dimension of this episode, Professor Tan Chung (who taught Chinese at my alma mater, Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi) observed that what "Mao disclosed to the modern world, a myth called guixi (literally "return to the west") is a Chinese social reproduction, viz. people consoling those whose near and dear has passed away with a sincere wish: 'May the deceased return to the Western Heaven.'

    Professor Tan Chung further observed in a lecture in June 2004, "Today, this sincere wish still survives in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, India, in places where Chinese diaspora have settled around the world, and even in the Chinese countryside where traditions diehard. This wish was reproduced in China for nearly two thousand years by Buddhists who used to call India xitian (western heaven) or zhongtian ("central heaven," i.e., Madhyadesa or present Bihar), and their own motherland dongtu (eastern land). So, our fierce revolutionary Mao was the messenger of a precious information from the sedimentation of Chinese civilization, which has such a soft corner for the neighboring civilization of India."

    There are very few people in India who are even aware of such a Chinese tradition. I myself learned of it from a Chinese graduate student of mine at UMass Dartmouth in early 1990s. My recent visits to Taiwan certainly reinforced this view, not only by the sights of Buddha statues throughout the country, but also by many of the essential cultural practices of respecting nature, elders, and guests.

    A story that had a telling impact on me was related to the accommodation of my hosts in Taipei made at my dinner once they learned I was a vegetarian. The dinner was attended by a very wide variety of people from Yang Ming University in March 2005, and it was an absolute surprise to me that they all ordered vegetarian dishes despite being non-vegetarians. This would not be expected even in India, at least amongst educated class living in cities. During my second two-week visit in 2006, Professor Wan-Jr Syu, the Dean of Life Sciences at Yang Ming, as well as my hosts at other universities like National Taiwan University and Tzu Chi University always ordered vegetarian food themselves even if the restaurants offered both vegetarian and non-vegetarian foods.

    Living in the United States, one would never imagine such a behavior. In the Western world, individual choices are always emphasized over the concerns about the groups, be them family, relatives, friends, or community. The expression of the Chinese culture towards a guest as I saw in Taiwan, I believe, bonds China and India at a much deeper level. A guest in India is traditionally given a status of god. Everywhere I visited in Taiwan there was a visible sign of respect, in large part since I was from India, the xitian perhaps.

    My day long visit to Tzu Chi University, especially to their medical school, was an eye opener. They hold an enviable position of pledges of thousands of people to donate their body after death for medical education. This is not because they provide any monetary incentive, but how they treat the body in accordance with the Chinese tradition of Buddhist and Confucian thoughts of respect to others even after death.

    Nobility of their thoughts and dedication of their work under the leadership of its founder, Dharma Master Cheng Yen, has allowed Tzu Chi Foundation to serve the people even in mainland China. I was told that they succeeded after initial hurdles faced due to the suspicion of the Chinese government about Tzu Chi being a Taiwan-based organization.

    A true dedication to the service of people can overcome any hurdles, can fill any gaps, and can elicit cooperation from all. Sino-Indian relations will have to use such an approach.

    In a speech on December 5, 2006, Honorable Song Deheng, the Consul General of People's Republic of China at the College of Naval Warfare, Mumbai exhorted to these values openly.

     "We [are] destined to stand up on the center of world stage again after centuries of being abased and downtrodden tragedies, only if we follow the path of peaceful development and mutual benefit. After all, compare to the longest friendly communications between our two countries for more than 2000 years, the unpleasant experience is minimum, which should be by every means forgettable."

    He continued, "The friendly exchanges between China and India could be traced back to more than 2200 years ago when some Chinese businessmen climbed over the precipice Himalayas and arrived in India subcontinent. Since then, the footprints of businessmen, monks and envoys that shuttled between India and China linked the two great nations closer. Two great civilizations have been benefited from the close and comprehensive interactions and exchanges: India became the terminal of the world-famous "Silk Road" in its southwest direction, the Chinese people's soul was enriched by Buddhism from India and Indian people learnt how to produce sugar from China, that is the reason why China is "Chini" in Hindi. Our friendship and cooperation went down to World War II when both of us were struggling for liberty from Fascist trample."

    China's Engagement with India

    India and China made a very promising start in 1954 by agreeing to the Five Principles (Panchasheela) of Peaceful Co-existence as the basis for developing relations between States. These principles provided for peaceful co-existence, mutual respect for each other's territorial integrity and sovereignty, non-aggression, non-interference in each-other's internal affairs, and recognition of equality and mutual benefit. These principles formed the basis of non-alignment movement (NAM) that attracted most of the countries in the world who wanted to keep away from the erstwhile Soviet and American blocks. However, implementation of Panchasheela principles was not effectively implemented, and the 1962 war between India and China shattered any dream of an Eastern leadership to the world affairs.

    It took 17 years before the ice was broken by a high level visit of Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee in February 1979  as a foreign minister, and paved the way for a relationship that has moved so far that today China is India's second largest trade partner with a total volume of more than $20 billion. While there is a lingering distrust in India about China, only some of it real whereas quite a few of them remain imaginary. China's military ambitions, totalitarian political structure, and strategic defense relationship with Pakistan form the major issues in the minds of Indian people. India faces a band of violent thugs in the name of Maoists or Naxals (as they are called locally for the origin of the movement at Naxalbadi). While this group may not be directly supported by the Chinese government, there is a general perception in India that Indian communists, particularly Communist Party of India (Marxists; CPM) are stooges of the Chinese communists.

    The problem with communist ideology in India, unlike in China, is that Indian intellectuals in general are so Westernized and elitized that they see Indian culture and traditions as backward, something to despise. This puts communists at the forefront of those who may be considered traitors, intellectually subservient to foreigners. Despite a lofty goal of fair and equitable treatment of masses, communism throughout the world has not delivered its promised economic equality. India being an ancient country with democratic freedom of expression and practice is traditionally bound with its culture. Any attempt to remove the culture, as generally attempted by Indian communists, is not appreciated.

    China has much better link to India directly through the masses, and that relies on thousands of years of culture rather than communism. Relations between China and India are more likely to grow on the foundation of culture and tradition rather than economic "competition" of each other by vying to the standards and definition of the Western world. Economic growth is important, but it must be attained with cooperation rather than cut-throat mentality of competition, because that inevitably leads to distrust and ego clashes.

    Western world has historically made plenty by creating clashes amongst different peoples. Their attempt to create a wedge has worked to their advantage for at least 500 years, and it has all come through the economic channel in the beginning, assuming a military dimension later. That is how colonialists worked their way into India and rest of the Eastern world.

    The question is whether China and India, recently clubbed together as Chindia by the Western economic interest groups, would recognize this in time, take corrective measures, and lead their future away from the framework of Western binary vision.

    This is going to be a tall challenge, given the history of Eastern world, as outlined by Kishore Mahbubani, the Dean and Practice Professor of public policy at the LKY School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore, in a comprehensive review of India's relations on the Eastern and Western fronts, and a prediction for India's independent path for the future.

    China's Break from the Past

    He quoted the first great Chinese reformer, Sun Yat Sen, who had no hesitation in recommending that China should learn from the West: "Chinese civilization has been around for several thousand years now, while Western civilization has only been around a mere several centuries. Chinese people cannot change a past civilization into a modern one. This is why people say that China is the most conservative and that is the reason for its accumulated poverty ... we, the modern people of China, are all useless, but if in the future we use Western civilization as a model, we can easily turn weakness into strength, and the old into the new. I think that everyone should go to the West and find something new, then go to the East and find something old, and if we Chinese can bring this about, then there will be nothing hard about the old turning into the new."

    Is China ready to listen to Sun Yet Sen's advice of turning the old into new, and will that be done in collaboration with India? Part of the problem the West has with China and India may be not that Chindia will use the Western technology to enhance their GDP and military power (they remain assured of their superiority for another half century or so), but to turn their old into new, which may be too hard for the West to compete with.

    Clyde Prestowitz , the author of  'Three Billion New Capitalists: The Great Shift of Wealth and Power to the East' points out that China has overwhelmingly become the location of choice for global manufacturing, and India is fast becoming the preferred place for production of software and the handling of outsourced business services.    

    According to Prestowitz "Globalization is no longer a matter of Americanization; globalization is going truly global at the speed of light. India and China have become not only the world's fastest growing economies, but are also destined to become the world's largest – surpassing both Japan and the United States."

    Interestingly, Japan's economic position today may also be attributed to its early decision to westernize itself. Japanese Meiji reformers, Yukichi Fukuzawa, said: "Our immediate policy, therefore, should be to lose no time in waiting for the enlightenment of our neighboring countries in order to join them in developing Asia, but rather to depart from their ranks and cast our lot with the civilized countries of the West. We should deal with them exactly as the Westerners do."  This attitude may in part have been responsible for the brutal treatment of Chinese population by Japanese rulers during their occupation of China.

    There is a great deal of debate whether India will represent the Western or the Eastern viewpoint. In my recent conversation with a colleague here, he suggested that actually Westerners like to think that the Eastern world starts after India. This is primarily because of Sanskrit, the ancient yet still in use, language of India being considered as the origin of the Indo-European languages, and a now virtually defunct Aryan Invasion Theory advanced by colonialists to relate Indian civilization to the European civilization.

    In the words of Mahbubani  "India's role as it emerges as a great power may therefore be quite different from the roles played by Japan and China. Japan tried to demonstrate forcefully that it could be as good a member of the Western club as any Western nations. China, by contrast, has made no effort to prove that it can be as Western as any other Western society."

    Opportunities of Cooperation and the Diasporas

    The cooperation between China and India has to involve a lot more people to people contact than it has been in the past. A beginning of such an effort is in offing with a leading role being played by Singapore to revive Nalanda University in India that was a major Buddhist learning center till 12th century when Turkish invaders burned down the university. China can take a prominent role in this effort.

    Another untapped source of people to people contact and cooperation is the large diaspora population of China and India. China has over 40 million diasporic population spread over half of the countries of the world, Similarly, there are over 22 million Indian diaspora living outside India. If this diaspora was a country, it will be the 49th largest country based on population. With an estimated GDP of $1 trillion of Indian diaspora outside India, their economic strength is larger than that of India with a GDP of only $720 billion.

    In recent years, as the interest of people throughout the world grows in India, and also in the Indian diaspora. world has turned to Indians in general and Indian Americans in particular to watch their culture, behavior, food and lifestyles, to a peek at what is actually India really made of. There is a population of over 3 million Chinese-Americans who could become a major resource of interaction with Indian-Americans. There is already an organization of Asian Americans in the US which could provide a formal structure for the two communities to work together.

    While the Chinese-Americans interaction with China is more investment based than those of the Indian-Americans, the latter make far more family remittances, suggesting a stronger family bond, providing a stronger opportunity to link and influence the mass opinion in India. As an evidence of this influence was recently observed when it was revealed that the US popularity is second highest in India after USA itself. At least part of the reason for this popularity is a strong presence (over 2 millions) of Indian-Americans who in turn shape the opinion of Indians.

    Indians make a favorable impression in the world about their tolerant and accepting nature, amenable for business. Forbes in its June 21, 2004 issue stated that "all societies flourish mightily when tolerance is the norm, and our age furnishes many examples of this." Paul Johnson, author of the article explains this point using examples of Indians in India as well as in the diaspora.

    "It is the nature of the Hindu religion to be tolerant and, in its own curious way, permissive….Take the case of Uganda's Indian population, which was expelled by the horrific dictator Idi Amin and received into the tolerant society of Britain. There are now more millionaires in this group than in any other recent immigrant community in Britain."

    Johnson offers a philosophical basis of this success by stating "they are a striking example of how far hard work, strong family bonds and a devotion to education can carry a people who have been stripped of all their worldly assets." 

    In a recent article (April 1, 2006) UK's Guardian newspaper reported that Hindus and Sikhs in Britain are the best at money managing. The newspaper interviewed members of Indian diaspora to fathom the reason for their unusual success.

    Geeta Nanda, a housing association director said: "I've inherited a different ethos to my contemporaries….It's all part of our ethos. We save before we buy - you can have a big car or flashy jewelry but you get them with cash and not through debt. You have what you can afford," she continued.

    Explaining part of the reason for such a record as spiritual the newspaper said "Hinduism stresses that increasing the family's wealth is a duty and a blessing from the goddess Lakshmi, the consort or wife of Lord Vishnu. She is the goddess whose four hands represent prosperity, purity, chastity and generosity."

    These are the examples of how even Westerners are willing to look at the role of cultural ethos in business successes. Recent successes of Mittal Steels and Tata Steels in taking over Arcelor ($33.1 billion) and Corus ($13.7 billion), the two European steel giants make the linkages of family-based businesses with success at the international level even stronger. Both Mittal and Tata groups are family owned businesses, one located in Europe and owned by non-resident Indian (part of Indian diaspora) and the other located in India.

    Greatness is really just a perception by the inside and outside world. While inside perceptions build morale and confidence, outside perceptions are no less important for an entity or institution, including a country. Both China and India are fortunate to have attained very positive perceptions from the outside world. Their respective diasporas have played a major role in this process, and can perhaps play even greater role in shaping the perception as well as real change not only in their respective ancestral lands but even between them. At least in the United States, both communities work well, and generally have different areas of strengths, both in technology and service sectors.

    Indians settled throughout the world are not only known for their computer skills and high education, and very high prosperity, but also for their philosophical temper towards life. Popularity of yoga in the Western world has provided it with a new glass through which to look at India. What is so unique about India that it has remained the zenith of philosophy, science, music, and culture for thousands of years? The answer lies, among other things, in nature's benevolence toward India. India's geography and geology provide natural settings for human learning. India is the only country blessed with the highest mountain peaks of the Himalayas on one end and the lowest level of earth (the ocean) on the other, with numerous geological formations in between. India is the only country that witnesses six clear and distinct seasons during the year. Such crisp variation in weather supports many diverse species of life.

    India's tradition of celebrating diversity remains a key to its success in the spiritual growth of its people, and its natural resources of fertile land and amenable weather to human living lends support for its prosperity and leisure time for developing thoughts in science and philosophy. In other words, India is truly a special land where ideas and observations intertwine to create an understanding of harmonious living. There is plenty of evidence of this when one examines numerous philosophical and spiritual thoughts, be it Vedanta, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Sufism, etc. These ideas have generally been living in peace with each other, which is more than can be said for rest of the world.

    Non-resident Indians (NRIs) are being looked at as living examples of India's values and traditions in their adopted lands. The same can be true with the Chinese diaspora at least for their language and food habits. However, because there is an apparent lack of education in their spiritual and religious heritage, the young immigrants become vulnerable to work stress and social isolation in a foreign land. Many of the young living in a foreign culture adapt foreign names and turn to Christianity for spiritual support. 

    Notably, Chinese diaspora has maintained a strong bond with the mainland through FDI, which is over 20-times higher than that of the Indian diaspora. However, foreign remittances of the Indian diaspora is over 7-fold higher than that of the Chinese diaspora, suggesting stronger family bond of the Indian diaspora, who are yet to catch up with Chinese diaspora's investment zeal (over 20 times higher than that of the Indian diaspora) in connecting with their ancestral land. China's economic structure, particularly with the inclusion of Hong Kong, has made it very attractive investment avenue for its diaspora.

    India, on the other hand, is still in the process of developing such a structure, but has started wooing NRIs and persons of Indian origin by celebrating NRI day in every January for the past five years. The celebration day coincides with the return of Mahatma Gandhi on January 9, 1914, from South Africa. The 3-day event is a state celebration involving the President, the Prime Minister, and many other ministers and government officials. It is a mixture of cultural and economic summit, and at least symbolically connects Indian diaspora with India very strongly. There may be some wisdom for the Chinese government to engage its diaspora similarly, in particular to connect with them culturally.

    Possible Future Moves

    In the final analysis, China and India will need to extend their engagement beyond current framework of nation-state concept defined by the Western world, yet utilize the opportunities present within the current framework of international concepts and conditions. For example, globalization, a concordant mantra, although as old as the human history has been a frontier phrase for the past 15 years or so, albeit mostly for the benefit of multinationals. However, due to the advent of Internet communications and information, globalization now seems to have unexpected and totally unintended repercussions on the existence of the nation-state concept for world organization. Today, globalization seems to undermine the nation-state concept at its core, and threatens the role of political masters much the same way as the colonial masters or slave masters. The long yearning for freedom from masters is finally inching towards its final steps. This reality can be utilized by cultures like India and China, which have promoted the sense of multiple ideas to exist together peacefully.

    Western world's treasured concept of democracy and diplomacy can be recast to create a more just and free world without the instrument of constant manipulation to have a zero sum game. For democracy, Mahatma Gandhi had a totally different idea than the state of nation-states we see in the world today, i.e., at each other's throat pretending diplomacy. Gandhi said, "Democracy must in essence, therefore, mean the art and science of mobilizing the entire physical, economic and spiritual resources of all the various sections of the people in the service of the common good of all." There is a great need to develop the concept of democracy further to let people become independent and free from constant control of corrupt rulers.

    India and China must take leadership in developing fundamental concepts for the welfare of all the people in the world by implementing them first in domains of their own influence, such as Kashmir for India, and Tibet for China, or in their neighborhood (Pakistan, Nepal, Taiwan, etc.). With the current level of violence and terrorism in the world, even Western world is anxious for new way of thinking.

    Concern about the environment pollution and a sustainable planet is opening the mind for a new way of global thinking. Public in the West is becoming restless with impending global warming and planetary doom. While Western governments keep pointing fingers at India and China for continuous and potential contribution to greenhouse gases, I believe people in the Western countries where social fabric has become very tenuous are looking up to the Eastern wisdom for a sustainable society living in peace with nature. The challenge for India and China is to develop ideas outside the box, based perhaps on their millennia old civilizational wisdom.

    There is a need to develop Panchatantra (five approaches) and Panchamantra (five goals) for the humanity irrespective caste and creed, for the creation of a new world order beyond political and military clichés. My tentative suggestions for Panchatantra to be implemented should be universal health, enlightened education, prosperous living, non-violence, and righteous governance. The Panchamantra would be independence, freedom, pursuit of truth, celebration of diversity, and harmony with nature.

    The structural complementarity in current economic practices of China (manufacturing and infrastructure) and India (business management and software and information technology) is accidental yet significant for a synergistic action plan if China and India decide to work together in providing leadership in the globalized world. China as a historically organized society can provide strong leadership in developing ways to implement the Panchatantra, and India with its very long tradition of philosophy could leadership in developing elaborate argument for the Panchamantra as a replacement of current paradigm of democracy, human rights, diplomacy, nation-states, and money-based social security.

Bal Ram Singh, Ph.D., Center for Indic Studies, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.