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Shrug and awe between Asia's two giants

Indians admire northern neighbour's economic prowess yet fear its intentions; Chinese prefer to look west than south

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 October, 2013, 11:29pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 October, 2013, 7:11pm

Leaders in Beijing and New Delhi may be putting historical enmity aside, but the warming political relations aren't necessarily translating into closer links between the people of the world's two most populous nations.

In India, the talk is of whether China is emerging as a threat and whether India's economy can compare to the runaway success of its northern neighbour. In China, however, few are sitting up and paying attention to happenings south of the Himalayas.

The growing interest in China among ordinary Indians has prompted leading Indian newspapers such as The Hindu to appoint correspondents in Beijing and run commentaries reflecting their views of a country that leaves many Indians perplexed.

On the economic front, China is viewed with admiration by the Indian media. But in terms of security, China is often painted as the transgressor in frequent rows over the disputed Himalayan border, most recently a three-week stand-off in April, when Chinese and Indian troops stood just 100 metres apart in the Karakoram Range on the western sector of the China-India border. The two fought a brief border war in 1962.

The concern is deepened by China's relationship with India's strategic rival Pakistan; Beijing is a key investor and trading partner of Islamabad, one of the oldest and most loyal allies of the People's Republic.

"India has quite a lot of interest in covering China," says Manoj Joshi, a veteran Indian journalist who is now a distinguished fellow at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation think tank. "The past history and the entire Sino-Indian border generate a great degree of interest because there have been a lot of activities on that border, and that is something which worries the Indian side."

You don't need to read the newspaper commentaries to understand how Indians feel about China. Walk into a New Delhi restaurant or café and it doesn't take long to garner a few views on Beijing.

Economically, they will question why India has fallen behind China in the past 20 years - a fact some Indians attribute to the efficiency of one-party rule over their own messy democracy.

"I think economically, it is a very fast developing country," says Anirudha Totewar, a trainee at a Mumbai-based steel company, adding that he hears from the media that China's economy is outperforming even that of the United States. "China has its own priority and India has its own priority. Chinese people, as many as I have met, are more calm and goal-oriented people. As far as Indians are concerned, they are not very much goal-oriented."

An opinion poll released in May reflects the mixed feelings of Indians when it comes to the rise of China.

The study, by two Australian think tanks, revealed that 83 per cent of Indians considered China to be a security threat, a fact the Observer Research Foundation attributed to China's nuclear arsenal, the competition for the resources of underdeveloped nations and Beijing's efforts to build relations with India's neighbours, not least Pakistan.

Almost two-thirds of Indians believe their government should work with other countries to counter China's rising power, yet a similar number say they want New Delhi and Beijing to work together to strengthen their role in world affairs.

Abhay Das, an overseas education consultant in Mumbai, says he is comfortable with China's economic growth because of the "good policies of the Chinese government", but says fears are spreading that China is tying to "divide India" through its close relationships with Pakistan and Bangladesh.

"They are trying to overrule India, and they may try to defeat India in terms of business. That's the whole thing, and that's what I feel," he said. "The Indian government should oppose the Chinese government, warning them not to send military aid to the Himalayas and Pakistan."

Others in India believe that China has deliberately failed to resolve the border issue - the exact boundary between the two sides has never been settled - as it gives Beijing a chance to flex its military muscle.

They want the Indian government to protect the border, though they favour dialogue over war.

"When they [the Chinese] started crossing the border of India, I think it's a bad thing because they should not have done that," said Tejas Narkar, a Mumbai-based assistant film director. "There should be more Indian soldiers on the border. There should be more protection there, and the Indian government should keep watch on it."

But plenty of Indians think positively of China. Totewar, the steelworker, says Chinese aggression is a thing of the past. Marienelle D'Souza, a television producer, says border tensions do not bother her.

"I have a colleague who is half Indian and half Chinese, and there is no tension between us," she said. "The border thing is a political issue that no one wants to bother about."

Sentiment towards India in China remains cool. A survey conducted by the Pew Research Centre last year found only 23 per cent of Chinese people surveyed had a favourable opinion of India, while 62 per cent had a negative one. Only 39 per cent of Chinese people regard their country's relationship with India as co-operative, down significantly from 53 per cent in 2010. But far from seeing India as a political or economic rival, they are apathetic about the country.

"My perception is that India is a backward country, and infrastructure there is inadequate," said postgraduate student Leo Zou from Beijing. "The news about India here is mostly negative, about things like rape."

The difference in perceptions is reflected in a report by the Indian foreign ministry, which said the number of Indian students in China this year had increased by 15 per cent year on year to 9,200, most of whom were studying Chinese medicine. But only about 2,300 Chinese students are enrolled at Indian universities.

Plans by the Yunnan University of Finance and Economics to run an exchange programme with Indian universities proved tough because of a lukewarm response from Chinese students. Yunnan students are not keen to go to India, says He Lan, who is responsible for the university international exchange programmes.

While a one-week exchange programme with the Vellore Institute of Technology in Mumbai saw 12 Indian students sign up to study in Kunming , just five Chinese students made the return journey - and only after heavy promotion, He said.

"It is difficult to keep this programme running," He said. The university had to consider its cost-effectiveness and could not continue to take on more Indian students than it had Chinese students going to India.

Exchange programmes with France and the United Kingdom are often oversubscribed, even though students have to pay for them, He said.

"Many students believe spending time and money in Europe and the United States is more worthwhile," He said. "And living conditions in India, especially during summer, are so very tough that not many Chinese students want to go."

Mao Siwei, a former Chinese consul general in Calcutta, said Chinese people are more concerned with high-profile rape cases or train accidents in India than social issues there.

"It is quite normal, as Chinese people are more concerned about countries which are more advanced than China," he said of the Chinese attitude to India. "Chinese people are more eager to know about Japan, Europe and the US because they believe they can learn something from them. For India, it is lagging behind China, and so people here do not care about it much."

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This article is now closed to comments

realestate
Who looks up to China anyways and for that matter Indians do not look up to China as the writer wrongly assumes infact like all others they look down upon them.
On a serious note what is so endearing about China ? It sure has a better infrastructure with good roads, airports, shopping malls etc but that's on a macro level, on a micro level the story is completely different. Most of its cities and bylanes are full of fakes and copies, most food is contaminated including milk for the infants, most of its unemployed and uneducated young women are gainfully employed in KTV and massage parlours, most of its labour force is pathetically employed working long hours in low wages producing goods for the rest of the world, given its long run as the factory of the world none of its products are world class or considered iconic, infact Made in China tag is considered in the lower rung of quality neither do foreigners rush to join Chinese universities nor show interest in taking up residency.So on what basis does the the writer Teddy Ng think that people are in awe and admiration of China and look up to them? Forget Indians, just look at close quarters at home and see what Hong Kong people think about China, the answer lies with them and we know what they think.
shuike
Stupid article or not - it sells. Look at the deluge of comments to corroborate its readership. SCMP knows where the rolls are buttered.
Baggy
The standard of this journalist who wrote this article is so low, that he should work a 3rd grade newspaper in China or India. He does not deserve to be working for SCMP in Hong Kong.
He is talking abt exchange students numbers, to explain countries of 1 billion people. His logic needs to be re-checked. Please get a normal IQ test done before hiring journalists.
guy.pant
<b>What a self-deprecating title where there is nothing in the article to suggest such.</b> If you ever see the commentaries at the Times of India, you will note that Indians see China alone as a threat and not the Pakistan-China relationship. Some Indians envy Chinese while others are vehemently jealous. There is very little China can learn from India, international news of India is not all positive, and there has been anti-Chinese voices in India so it's natural for Chinese people and media to be less interested in that country which has nothing to do with looking down or up. India sees a culturally, politically, and economically successful neighbor so its natural for them to look up to China.
guy.pant
I will note that Indians tend to be more successful and promoted more by whites in Western countries and companies than East Asians in general. They are more visible in Western media, politics, and not uncommon CEOs in western companies. I sense that Orientals in general are treated as a constant potential threat but Indians lie low and take advantage of their perceived anti-Chinese perception and for being in the Commonwealth. What may help Orientals dispel the anomosity is better English skills.
cardcardso@yahoo.com
The Nation
India is overcoming more than 200 years of poverty. Its middle class is now emerging. There were 4.6 million middle-class households in 1995, with annual income of 200,000 to 1 million rupees ($1 = 53 rupees). In 2015, the number of middle-class households is projected to reach 60 million, and 128 million by 2025. There were 160 million "poor" households with annual income under 200,000 rupees in 1995. By 2015, this number will fall to 143 million households.
While most of the developed economies are facing sluggish growth, India and other emerging countries have been able to post respectable growth rates. Last year, the US economy grew 2.3 per cent compared to 2 per cent for Japan and -0.4 per cent for the EU. India posted a growth rate of 4.5 per cent, compared with 7.8 per cent for China.
India's economy by sector is 59 per cent for services, 27 per cent for manufacturing and 14 per cent for agriculture.
These official statistics do not tell the whole story. India is a leader in information technology. Its software engineers are working in every corner of the world. Its overseas workers, both professional and in labour intensive jobs, are remitting $50-$60 billion a year back home. Indian nationals hold key positions in finance and banking, capital and financial markets, and international institutions such as the United Nations, International Monetary Fund and World Bank.
cardcardso@yahoo.com
Thanong Khanthong
thanong@nationgroup.com
New Delhi February 22, 2013 1:00 am
As China rises, it has stolen the spotlight, but the perception is that it is more of a threat than an opportunity for the region. This is the impression we get from reading the mainstream media day in, day out. Yet few have taken notice of the rise of India, which has been lying low. Through shrewd "camouflaging", India has been able to avoid attention all these years. Let China bask in the glory and take a beating at centre stage over its conscious attempt to overthrow the order designed by the Anglo-Saxon world, which has dominated this planet for the past 200 years or so.
But when you look at the numbers and the magnitude of change that is happening in India, you'll realise that it is the subcontinent we must focus on, as it rises alongside China. Let's consider these important figures prepared by the Confederation of Indian Industries:
At US$4.8 trillion, India's gross domestic product, in terms of purchasing power parity, has already surpassed Japan's $4.5 trillion to rank third in the world. The US comes first at $15.6 trillion, followed by China at $12.3 trillion.
India's economy is one of the world's fastest growing. In 1992-1993, the size of India's economy was $250 billion. Today, it is around $1.8 trillion.
India's population is the world's second largest after China, at 1.17 billion.
While most countries are struggling with ageing societies, India is blessed
Lwang3@gmail.com
Wrong title. Chinese don't look down on India. Chinese simply don't give a damn about India. India is at least twenty years behind China in all major social development indicators. Since China has nothing to learn from India, why would they care?
jaswinderpalsngh@yahoo.com
China- a super power?? YEAH RIGHT (i doubt you even know what sarcasm is)
Go and clear all the filthy smog rather than wasting your useless time on these online portals.
And yeah, what good is an economy that suppresses its people and completely and insanely intolerates any freedom of speech.
I do not label all humans the same rather treat them on their merit. Guess this is cliff hanger for you pr$cks.
Lwang3@gmail.com
As Winston Churchill put it, " India is merely a geographical expression. It is no more a single country than the equator." Since the British left more than 60 years ago, India has been a failed state. China has its own fair share of problems, but compared to the F student India, China looks like a valedictorian. The whole BRIC growth story has actually been a China story only, with maybe some Russian part, thanks to the high energy price. The elite class of Indians may do well and produce more luminaries, but as a country, India face a very bleak future.

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