Making Sense of Chindia is a book by well-known economist and Member of Parliament – Jairam Ramesh.
What is with “Chindia”? Is it possible to visualize India and China as comparable entities? Is it possible for the two countries to begin to respect each other and help themselves to rise to commanding heights in the comity of nations? Is it possible to think in terms of “Chindia”?
In this book, Jairam seeks to validate all these statements through a series of essays by examining different issues from past history to present reality and thoughts of what the future may hold.
The launch of the book
I had the opportunity to be present during the launch of this book in Bangalore on the 23 rd of April 2005 at the “Landmark” book store at the Forum Mall. I am not at skilled at reviewing books but having had this opportunity of hearing Jairam elucidate his current thoughts and answer the questions put to him; it is worth sharing these thoughts with a wider audience many of whom think of our two countries as only being in a state of confrontation and unease with each other.
It was but a few months ago, (in fact just a few days before I attended the launch of this book), that the Chinese President Wen Jiabao visited Bangalore first, before going on to Delhi. This came as a surprise to many, for those of us who live in Bangalore , this is a city defined by traffic jams and practically no infrastructure for growth.
Yet, even China with its amazing progress in creating infrastructure and economic growth thinks that there is something to be learned from us. There was the fiasco, of Tibetan students breaking through security cordon (outsmarting the police intelligence) and demonstrating against the Chinese premier. But, times have changed and we did not hear anything from the Chinese about this lapse.
However, I digress, coming back to the book, this is a rather slim book but written well in Jairam’s style. I realize that Jairam is not only great to watch and hear on debates like the “The Big Fight” on NDTV, but it’s also interesting to read his take on the global situation. And he is certainly eminently qualified to speak in matters of foreign policy and government decision making.
The historical relationship of “Chindia”
Jairam starts with the historical relationship between the two countries, which, in ancient times had links. This was when Buddhism was taken to China from India and we discovered our past history through the writing of the Chinese travelers. There was considerable trade in ancient times as well between our countries. However, in post-colonial times there was a lot of antagonism between both countries due to the politics of the day.
Most Indians who are in their thirties and upwards would have grown up in the atmosphere of the post 1962 war debacle with China . Our distrust and fear of the Chinese has only grown from this point and there are mutual misgivings on the border disputes, our nuclear policy and support to the Tibetan cause.
But perhaps it was the Indo-China war in 1962 that ingrained in us that China was the aggressor nation. Taking on from here we have seen how China’s spectacular success in abating poverty, the amazing growth in its manufacturing and infrastructure have made India feel vulnerable and threatened a few years back.
Globalization and the growing market of Chinese products
We thought that with the opening up of trade and globalization Indian industry would be unable to stand the might of Chinese manufacturing and would be swamped with Chinese products.
However, while there has been a huge increase in trade, it has not been one sided. Yes, Chinese products practically dominate certain sectors such as electronic gadgets and toys but we have seen that most Indian companies making quality products have continued to thrive. In fact we now see that many companies in the training and IT services sector are aggressively setting up shop in China and investing in China .
Software and IT services
India’s spectacular success in software and IT services has made Chinese leaders sit up and take note. They now see India as a leading power and a country they should collaborate and do business with. Thus we see the pragmatism of Wen Jaibao’s approach of visiting the “software capital” of India and then going on to the national capital.
They surely want to emulate the success that India has in the knowledge arena. China's main problem here has always been English. But some experts have started to ask a major question- Will Chinese overtake English as the global language?
India’s Mind Block
However, Jairam’s contention is that Indian leaders on the other hand are still wary of giving too much to the Chinese. There are very few Chinese companies coming directly into India. Jairam cites the examples of Haier and Huawei Technologies who seem to be facing some obstacles and are not being allowed to expand freely. There is a mind block that does not want to accept that with changing times even sworn enemies can become friends. Perhaps the same can be said of our Pakistan relationship as well
An Opportunity for India
Jairam Ramesh says that both countries should come together and make use of this opportunity in time to strengthen their ties not only in terms of business but culturally and with people to people contact as well. This would be a great occasion for India to use the collaboration with China and make itself a more important player on the world stage.
The criticism against this book would primarily be that this anthology of essays has been written at different times and therefore there is a lack of continuity between the chapters. Also, one feels that when facts and figures are being quoted from say 2002 or earlier years for a book being published in 2005, they do seem a little outdated for a book of this type.
All in all, a very informative book, which tries to dispel many set notions regarding the country that has become a force to reckon with.
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