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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 14, March 21, 2009

India and China in the Neo-Liberal World

Saturday 21 March 2009, by Amna Mirza


[(Book Review)]

The Elephant and the Dragon: The Rise of India and China And What it Means for All of Us by Robyn Meredith; W.W. Norton and Company, New York, London; page: 252; price: US $ 15.95.

India and China, the two neighbours, share the same civilisational antiquity. They are also credited with being the most populous nations on earth and additionally both are looked upon as states to reckon with in terms of global might in the near future.

Indo-centricity, asymmetry, colossal size in terms of geography and resources, ethnic minorities are the broad parameters which are used to begin a discourse on India and its neighbours in South Asia like Pakistan, Bangladesh etc. It injects a certain degree of fear factor amongst the neighbours vis-a-vis India. However, while evaluating the terms of reference of India-China relations, it is the other way round.

The book under review encapsulates a vast change in the global order with the rise of these two nations. Robyn Meredith does employ her excellent journalistic skills by stating the case lucidly, based on her vast experience as a foreign correspondent for Forbes magazine for India and China.

The book spans nine elaborate chapters. The very introduction ‘Tectonic Economics’ captures the mood of the book—‘Neo-Liberalism’ (the ideas promoted in the work of Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye where nations under the anarchic international system give primacy to absolute gains over relative gains, forged by the economic dimension with the forces of complex inter-dependence at play via regimes, institutions and norms). From Mao’s Great Leap Forward to Deng Xiaoping’s Cultural Revolution, China has been on the transformative realm from a communist system to a subtle open economy. The dynamics of the politics remain the same with a one-party dominant system, which is overpowered by the changed global reality. Rise of big cities, expressways, export-led development, rural unrest, growth of local players in the international realm are the defining parameters of the change in China well explained in Chapter 1—‘Where Mao meets the Middle Class’.

India, the land of Gandhi and the Charkha, opted for a socialist state-led development regime under the Nehruvian one-party dominant phase which was given up with the delicensing of the economy in 1991, the market being given an equal opportunity with the state (Chapter 2—‘From the Spinning Wheel to the Fibre Optic Wire’). In the present day we often see how China takes keen interest in the American dollar as most of the multinationals have pumped in their investments in Chinese markets leading to the Keynesian multiplier effect of a rise in employment leading to the increase in income and savings. How the Chinese communist system finds its markets flooded with Prada, Armani, Louis Vuitton, Mercedes makes for interesting reading in Chapter 3—‘Made by America in China’.


The global age is marked by the shrinking of time and space, mirrored in the Internet Revolution. An elaborate account of the same is encapsulated in Chapter 4—‘The Internet Spice Route’, talking about offshoring, rise of back offices, unleashing a new kind of Fordism in work culture. What is striking is that in terms of politics, China is a one-party communist system whereas India is a multiparty democracy, but the changed economic realities have the primary factors at work for the metamorphosis of their international profiles. There are several calls for changes within the political institutions, yet the system persists.

The rise of industrial economies in both nations has posed questions about the need for adequate infrastructure juxtaposed against environmental challenges. Both nations are reeling under such questions as growth for whom? The nation cannot afford to grow in a certain schism reflected in ‘India vs Bharat’ (in the Indian context); and what is particularly important is the fact that both are populous nations.

A good journalistic account of the prevailing reality in both countries is made more descriptive by incorporation of pictures like ‘Rich slum in Mumbai’, ‘Street protests in Shenyang’, ‘Mao standing still behind Samsung hoarding’, ‘Airport at Guangzhou’. However, the book gives a one-sided presentation of change completely neglecting the possession of nuclear weapons by both nations, China’s frequent use of Pakistan as a proxy against India, the United States’ latest approach to India beyond the hyphenated Indo-Pak realm in South Asia, China’s complete abrogation of Panchsheel principles in the past, Beijing’s stand on reform of the United Nations and India being factored into the Security Council as a permanent member. Analyses of these phenomena could have given the book a solid foundation to comprehensively study the two powers.

The reviewer is doing her M.Phil in Political Science in the University of Delhi.

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