My Take

China can learn soft power from India

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 October, 2013, 1:55am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 October, 2013, 1:55am

If you only know one country, you don't know any country. Many people in Hong Kong have a one-dimensional - and negative - view of the mainland. But if you go to India, you will find they have a far more complicated and nuanced view of China. However, if you visit China, you will find most mainland Chinese have little or no interest in India. For comparable interest, most mainlanders, or at least those with professional and educational aspirations, look to the US.

There are, of course, many similarities between the two countries way beyond the superficial comparison of democracy and one-party authoritarianism.

This was a topic I recently discussed with my friend and author Chandran Nair and Pankaj Mishra, the famous Indian intellectual; and also the subject of one of the Post's most commented-on articles.

"Many Indians think they can learn from China's development model," Nair once told me.

Mishra argues the Chinese state may be more responsible to, say, the country's tens of millions of farmers, than India because the latter's market-driven reform and electoral mandate could justify their neglect and exploitation. He questions whether its democracy is more formal than real.

Read any Indian newspaper and it is full of stories comparing every aspect of the two countries, usually in favour of China. For many Indians, China is at once a rival, a threat and a model to emulate.

Infrastructure and public transportation are a perennial favourite comparison. China is way ahead. Software development? India is far ahead. Government efficiency? Well, many Indians actually admire the policy efficiency of China's one-party rule. But that's something you rarely see reported in the world media. Corruption? China ranks 80 out of 176 countries in Transparency International's corruption perceptions index while India's rank is worse, at 94.

Both countries have been pursuing aggressive foreign policies, such as building a blue-water navy. India's border expansions were historically far more aggressive from 1948 to 1975.

But India largely gets a free pass while China is scrutinised with its every move. That's India's soft power that Beijing can learn from.