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China and India Both Struggling: Growth Isn’t Guaranteed

Two simmering conflicts in Asia’s biggest countries have jumped back to the headlines recently. In India today, Naxalite forces ambushed a police convoy, killing fifteen policemen. And among China’s restive Tibetans, self immolations are on the rise. It’s a reminder that both these countries are dealing with serious internal unrest.

In China’s Tibetan communities, something like thirty people (definitive numbers are hard to come by) have set themselves on fire in protest against Chinese oppression in the past year. A stark reminder arrived this week: a Tibetan consumed by orange flames rushed through a protest march in India before collapsing (warning: graphic photos).

Meanwhile, India’s Naxalite insurgency is viewed by the central government as the most serious threat to India’s national security. Thousands of guerrilla fighters are suspected to be operating across various states of central and northeastern India, in some places bolstered by disenfranchised tribal communities who feel they have been treated with contempt by the central government. Despite a wide-ranging government effort to destroy their capacity for armed struggle and to address the underlying social and economic issues that drive new recruits into the insurrection, the Naxalites don’t seem to be going away. If anything, their attacks are becoming more bold.

These violent episodes should give pause to those who believe that the inexorable rise of China and India is baked into the cake of world history. Both imposing giants stand on feet of clay. Both face problems of security and unrest. Both must deal with political turmoil — whether there is one party or dozens, countries of more than a billion people undergoing rapid change can’t take stability for granted. Neither is guaranteed years of economic growth; India’s economy is slowed by the dead weight of regulations and interest groups the country’s weak governments can’t push aside, and China is approaching the end of the road for export-oriented development.

Even in Asia, trees don’t always grow to the sky.

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  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    I think comparing the two very different countries, by a few violent activities in each is very shallow criteria by which to judge them. Instead lets compare their fundamental differences, Democracy vs. Authoritarian, Import model economy (floating currency) vs. Export model economy (currency manipulation), Free Enterprise vs. State Directed Capitalism. In my opinion India comes off as by far the better in each of those fundamental aspects. I would like to remind people that violence is common in the US, with riots and protests in every decade going back to the Revolution, and America is the leading nation on Earth my a significant margin. Judging a Nation’s future prospects from the level of internal violence is not a valid way of arriving at a correct conclusion.
    I believe that India is likely to continue making the necessary adaptations to thrive, while China is headed for several decades of depression similar to Japan’s but worse.

  • J R Yankovic

    Very good overview. Ongoing dissidence and insurgency in both countries suggest that neither one is anywhere near the end of the woods when it comes to serious social and ethnic problems. As I understand it, both India and China continue to suffer from some really in-your-face uneven development. Whether that is largely the result of excessive, or merely misplaced and misguided, regulation possibly remains to be seen. But it does make me wonder if the US – and indeed the Anglosphere in general – doesn’t have AT LEAST as much to teach as to learn from these emerging “giants.”

    And for the record, I do hope Jacksonian Libertarian is right in his/her prognosis of India vs China.

  • Alice Finkel

    The professor is right. Both mega-nations are vulnerable to massive instabilities.

    China’s corrupt state owned enterprises and provincial governments will reach the empty bottom of their bag of tricks soon enough. China’s national government will have to decide who to support and who to contain.

    India’s corrupt and badly divided population is in danger of erupting into massive violence at any time, not to mention its failed nuclear state neighbor, Pakistan.

    China has the advantage in terms of human capital, but the disadvantage in terms of authoritarian and many quasi-totalitarian government policies. The dragon is too large and unwieldy to control, and China’s leaders are doing many wrong things, very badly.

  • The Snob

    A few dozen Tibetans immolate themselves, while millions of Han Chinese continue pouring into Tibet, a policy which the other 99.9% of Chinese citizens support unequivocally. And so long as china has money to spend, no one is going to do anything about it. China has many tensions, but Tibet is not one which poses any serious risk.

  • gringojay

    China’s rulers have their formula for maintaining control well worked out. None of us alive now will see China’s breakup, even as they tweak issues for those ruled.
    Tibet’s colonization is not an issue that can derail
    China’s status quo. The first year Tibet’s border was open to foreigner visa entering from Nepal I made way overland. The Chinese hadn’t snookered permanent Most Favored Nation trading status with
    USA yet, so Han Chinese colonization was just about
    physical & military presence – now it’s buildings &
    infrastructure facts on the ground, thanks to Westt’s
    wealth transfer.
    Around same time foreigners were banned from going into northeast India. The insurgency there is
    not going away, nor capable of independence from
    India in any of our lifetimes either.
    We aren’t dealing with conditions like the cutting up of the Ottoman empire after World War One &
    machinations of Western European colonialism. Asia simply can not be interpreted using the paradigm most in the Anglo-sphere hold as self-evident.

  • PacRim Jim

    The increased expectations associated with increasing urbanization, the demographic trends, and the male/female ratio can’t bode well for China.

  • TTT

    Until 1993, China was poorer than India.

    But today, China’s economy is 4 times larger.

    This is not a race. China already won.

  • Thucydides

    If anything is going to seriously upset China’s applecart it is the vast gap between the wealthy coastal regions and the impoverished interior, and the discontent it causes. Second in order of march are the discontented Muslim regions in Western China, mainly Xinjiang. Finally, the demographic collapse caused by the “one child” policy will cause massive instabilities starting in the 2020’s.

    India, with its flexible democratic and free market system is far better able to deal with change than the brittle authoratarian system of China

  • Kris


    Until 1993, China was poorer than India.
    But today, China’s economy is 4 times larger.
    This is not a race. China already won.

    How fortunate for China that time has frozen, and that stasis now rules!

  • failed_india_democracy

    India is an example of failed democracies(of course better than Haiti’s democracy). China is better managed at least with her economy than India. China had one million tourists to USA in 2011, to say Chinese has no freedom is not very accurate. Theory of China’s collapse has been abound since 1991 soon after Soviet Union collapse. What we see now is the world second largest economy, the Indian wishful thinking does not help at all with Indian progress.

  • captainjohann

    There is no comparison between the two. China is already G2 and is poised to overtake USA.Indian policy planners even now try to mollycoddle west while China will just not bother. The Indian ruling establishment and their progeny hanker for green cards while Chinese in USA will do anything for their mother land.China is P5 while India is trying to enter. India must know how to function free of western criticism to be of any significance to west.

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