Comparing the Economic, Political and Strategic Rise of China and India

As modern states, China and India should not be examined in isolation, but rather placed within the context of an international system dominated by unequal and competing states.  The rise of two developing nations – which together comprise one-third of the global population – in economic, political and strategic realms of international relations provides ample content for scholars and strategists.  Factors enabling and perpetuating the rise of China and India are dissimilar; the differences in the two states’ strengths and weaknesses emphasize the power disparity between them.  First, China has a larger economy and is experiencing faster economic growth than India; this economic prowess, when combine with China’s status as a major power within the United Nations and other international institutions enables Beijing to minimize India’s international political capabilities despite its period of ‘shining’.  Finally, Beijing’s comprehensive grand strategy and increasing military planning and spending compared to India’s muddled strategy and slower spending have given China a strategic advantage.

The end of the twentieth century was tumultuous for China and India.  Since economic reforms in 1978 and 1991, respectively, China and India focused on state-building to perpetuate regime legitimacy.  The arrival of the United States as the global hegemon at the end of the Cold War caught the attention of both China and India; India aspired to limit its vulnerabilities by improving relations with the United States while encouraging the construction of a multipolar order, and finding its own place in the international system.  Asia was transitioning to a regionally unipolar order, however, dominated by China. (Mohan, 2007)  This essay examines the economic, political and strategic differences between the rise of China and the rise of India. 

The contrasting economic growth models of both China and India underlie their emergence as rising powers.  Whereas China achieved growth through blue-collar, manufacturing-driven growth, India’s development has included white-collar, service labor. Interestingly, Brahma Chellaney notes, “in India the private sector continues to fuel economic growth while China’s economic growth is largely state-driven.  India performs poorly wherever the state is involved, while the strength of the Chinese state as the primary catalyst of accumulating power carries significant strategic ramifications.” (Chellaney, 2008, p. 34) 

Since the leadership of Deng Xiaoping, China’s ultimate national goal has been to create a ‘relatively well off society’. (Lieberthal, 2007, p. 31)  Over the past three decades, China has established average real growth in excess of 9% annually, and in peak years had growth rates around 13% and 14%.  China now has the world’s second largest economy, and is projected to overtake the United States in size of GDP during the first half of this century. (Tellis, 2011, p. 3) China’s economy relies largely on foreign investment and export markets; because of the global recession, China has relied increasingly on the domestic market. Rapid growth must continue to avoid massive domestic instability. The “leadership’s mentality, Beijing’s resulting grand strategy and the actual spillover effects of the dynamics of China’s domestic system…are shaping the international consequences of China’s rise.” (Lieberthal, 2007)

India meanwhile grew its economy on the back of internal sources, leading to a potentially more stable level of trade. (Lieberthal, 2007, p. 4)  India’s economic rise has coupled with its security interests in its relations with the United States and how others think of the state.  The Indian economy has grown at a rate of about 7.5% over the past decade; however economic reforms to continue this growth have been hampered by political contestation over reforms and lack of domestic political consensus.  (Tellis, 2011, p. 4)  By being inward-oriented India’s economy has weathered the global financial crisis, and enabled it to work on creating an international agenda.  However, when viewed in the bilateral context, India “is not a rising power in material terms compared to China.”  In 2010, China’s GDP ($5.88 trillion) was more than three times as large as India’s ($1.73 trillion). (Fravel, 2011, p. 78)  The economic gap between China and India continues to widen, causing China to see India as a non-competitor in this realm.

In the contemporary political sphere, China and India face competing priorities within their region and internationally.  Because of China’s ability and desire to enter new markets in search of energy security, trade relations and strategic partnerships, China’s rise poses a potential threat to the stability of India, whereas India’s rise has left Beijing relatively unaffected.  In fact, China’s major power status has helped it to minimize the role and capabilities of India.  Chinese leaders believe it is in the national interest to become a major power, and that China should be treated as such when participating in international institutions. Although for China being a major power does not undermine its status as a developing nation when it comes to shrinking its carbon footprint.  China’s status as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council is a clear advantage over India; not only can Beijing impede efforts by India to gain a permanent seat, but it can offer political protection to rogue regimes such as Iran and now historically Myanmar through its veto power.  Thus China’s rising political clout has enabled it to hold India back within the United Nations while also getting an advantage in gaining energy resources: “Beijing’s ability to provide political cover is a fundamental element of China’s thriving commercial ties with a host of problem states.” (Chellaney, 2008, p. 26) Diplomatically, China has closer relations with its East Asian neighbors than India has with its South Asian neighbors.  In border disputes and relations with Pakistan, China also has the upper hand.  Moreover, China has been constructing trade and transportation links with India’s neighbors in order to benefit China’s greater interests, bringing India under strategic pressure.

In part because India is a democracy and has a history of nonalignment, contemporary United States foreign policy is more trusting of India than of China; “that China remains governed by an authoritarian regime, has a long history of subordination in East Asia, and nurtures a troublesome streak of nationalism domestically only accentuates” American anxieties about “what China’s rise implies for regional security.” (Tellis, 2011, p. 16, 32)  Therefore the potential for a significant India-United States partnership has increased with the rise of China.  The George W. Bush Administration’s decision in 2005 to sign a major atomic energy pact with India underscores the importance that Washington attaches to the partnership in countering China’s influence in the region. (Er and Wei, 2009, p. 2)  Increasingly US-China and India-China relations are plagued by mistrust.  It is India’s ‘culture of strategic restraint’ and democratic values that perpetuate the United States-India partnership. (Sinha and Dorschner, 2010)

In terms of strategic capabilities, planning and military spending, China yet again has a profound advantage over India.  While both the rise of China and India led to goals for military modernization, the difference in scale and type of funding has been notable.  In April 2012, India launched its first inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM), joining an elite group of states; China, meanwhile, developed its first ICBM in the 1970s.  Washington was notably silent when India launched the ICBM, whereas Beijing reacted with caution. (Times of India, 2012)   Based on percentage of GDP, military spending in China has risen the fastest in the world: for two continuous decades, Beijing had persistent double-digit increases in military spending.  During the same period, defense spending in India declined as a percentage of the country’s GDP.  In addition to the scale disparity between the two states, “China apportions 28% of the country’s military budget for defense-related research and development, India apportions just 6% for research and development.” (Chellaney, 2008, p. 35)  During its rise, China has become one of the largest arms exporters globally, while India relies on arms imports for primary defense needs.  China’s top arms clients (Pakistan, Burma and Bangladesh) neighbor India and have been a cause of concern for New Delhi. (Chellaney, 2008, p. 35)

Pursuing an “omnidirectional diplomacy combined with military modernization,” China and India have in different ways come to terms with the implications of their rising power for their national and international interests.  (Fravel, 2011, p. 70) To the dismay of scholars and strategists, India has not proclaimed a consistent strategic vision of its goals within the international arena.  Aseema Sinha and Jon P. Dorschner (2010, p. 77) argue that “India’s strategic vision and behavior at the international level are marked both by change and remarkable continuity.”  In contrast, China seeks “a peaceful and stable external environment,” “peaceful development,” and “aims to maximize its autonomy in the international system to limit the constraints of unipolarity.” (Fravel, 2011, p. 69)  The difference in preparedness between China and India is evident in their plans for naval power projection in the Indo-Pacific region.

In the economic, political and strategic realms of international relations, China has been the more aggressive and dominant player during its rise when compared to India.  (Chellaney, 2008, p. 31)  Although the rise of China and India are often mentioned together, there are substantial differences between them.  India, overall, presents a potential force, “while China is active in the here and now.” (Sinha and Dorschner, 2010, p. 77) China’s rapid pace of perpetual development has placed it well ahead of India in terms of domestic infrastructure and development, military and economic strength, and hence political clout.  Each of the numerous factors and implications surrounding the rise of China and India are significant topics of discussion in their own right. 

Works Cited

“Agni-V launch: India demonstrates ICBM capability; China reacts cautiously, says India not rival.” (4/19/2012)  [http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-04-19/india/31367133_1_agni-v-k-saraswat-wheeler-island] (6/24/2012)

Er, L.P. and Wei, L.T. (2009) The Rise of China and India: A New Asian Drama. Singapore: World Scientific Press.

 Fravel, M.T. (2011) “China Views India’s Rise: Deepening Cooperation, Managing Differences,” in Ashley J. Tellis, Travis Tanner, and Jessica Keough, eds., Strategic Asia 2011-12: Asia Responds to Its Rising Powers, China and India. Seattle: The National Bureau of Asian Research.

 Lieberthal, K. (2007) “How Domestic Forces Shape the PRC’s Grand Strategy & International Impact,” in Ashley J. Tellis and Michael Wills, eds. Strategic Asia 2007-08: Domestic Political Change and Grand Strategy. Seattle: The National Bureau of Asian Research.

 Mohan, C.R. (2007) “Poised for Power: The Domestic Roots of India’s Slow Rise,” in Ashley J. Tellis and Michael Wills, eds. Strategic Asia 2007-08: Domestic Political Change and Grand Strategy. Seattle: The National Bureau of Asian Research.

 Schweller, R. and Pu, X. (Summer 2011) “After Unipolarity: China’s Visions of International Order in an Era of U.S. Decline.” International Security, 36/1, pp. 41-72.

 Sinha, A. and Dorschner, J. (January 2010) “India: Rising Power or a Meer Revolution of Rising Expectations?” Polity, 42/1, pp. 74-99.

 Tellis, A. (2011) “The United States and Asia’s Rising Giants,” in Ashley J. Tellis, Travis Tanner, and Jessica Keough, eds. Strategic Asia 2011-12: Asia Responds to Its Rising Powers, China and India. Seattle: The National Bureau of Asian Research.

 

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Navigating an Asia-Pacific in Transition

On Wednesday, June 13, the Center for New American Security held its annual conference at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel in downtown Washington, D.C. This year the theme was “Rethinking US Security: Navigating a World in Transition”.  For a conference with open registration, CNAS drew big ticket scholars and public officials such as CNAS co-founders Assistant Secretary of State Honorable Dr. Kurt Campbell and Former Under Secretary of Defense Honorable Michele Flournoy, and notably Dr. Bruce Jentleson, Dr. Robert Kagan, Dr. Anne-Marie Slaughter, World Bank President Honorable Robert Zoellick, as well as many others.  With the goal of linking security strategy with diplomacy, this post will give a snapshot of the keynote address by Hon. Campbell entitled “The Asia-Pacific Century”.

Given that, according to Campbell, the lion’s share of history this century will be written in the Asia-Pacific, he posed the following question: can the US sustain a high level of engagement with the Asia-Pacific?  As the most senior State Department official on the subject, Campbell of course sees it to be the ‘destiny’ of the United States to do just that.  He offered a list of elements for the US to be successful.

  •  Perpetuate bipartisan commitment throughout government, and notably in Congress.  Overall, there is immense confidence throughout the world about the “enormous capabilities” of the US; however the main worry is whether or not bipartisan commitment can be sustained.  There is a need to continue to build consensus to demonstrate national strength and forward engagement.
  • Sustain opportunities for regular high level dialogue.  Continuous institutionalization of dialogue at the bilateral level reminds both the US and its partners about the benefits of engagement.  The travel from the US to parts of Asia can be long, and the trips strenuous, but, according to Campbell, “Our Asian friends expect us to show up.” 
  • Promote and support American manufacturers, giving them the “ticket to the big game” in Asia. The US should continue to be an optimistic voice in the international economic system and a strong trading partner. Campbell gave the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement as a good example of cooperation.  Improved lower level engagement is also needed.
  • Strengthen alliances to work as a launching pad for further action in the Asia-Pacific.  Some say alliances are antithetical to new institutions, but Campbell believes otherwise. They provide a foundation for engagement within a strong alliance network.  The US is seeking to deepen its ties with countries such as the Philippines and Thailand. It is “inconceivable that we can be effective without alliances”.
  • Enhance a number of bilateral relationships throughout the Asia-Pacific.  The Obama administration has steadily improved relations with Indonesia (an emerging leader of ASEAN), Vietnam, India, and New Zealand.  It is important for the US and India to work more in tandem on a range of issues. Furthermore, there is room for improvement with Europe-Asia engagement; the US should help Europe to facilitate those ties.
  • Endure positive relations with China. The most significant problem that the US faces is how to sustain a robust relationship with China. The bilateral relationship is, in Campbell’s view, more complicated than former relations between US and the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War.  Asia-Pacific states need an agreeable relationship with China; by working together, the US and China can demonstrate our wisdom and maturity to other states.
  • Need to continue to develop formal, multilateral institutions.  For multiple reasons, the success of multilateral institutions is profoundly in the interest of the US.  The current institution-building process – in a period of transition and tumult – is similar to that after World War 2.  Campbell stated “I want to have the US sit at those [negotiating] tables” to build norms and manners of engagement. ‘Minilateral’ forums can help build trust while tackling key issues. US-Japan-Korea is the most important trilateral relationship, and the US is heavily invested in the future development of the Japan-Korea relationship.
  • Pursue a comprehensive defense strategy.  Find additional ways to partner and engage with states in the region.  ‘Defense Diplomacy’ has been and will continue to be critical in Southeast Asia due to traditional and nontraditional security issues.  Actions taken by the Obama administration to establish training, military rotations, joint facilities and so forth with actors such as Australia, Philippines, and Singapore are “a down payment on this process”.
  • Invest in people. The US Department of State, Department of Defense and the greater government need employees that are deeply knowledgeable about Asia, with language skills.  Effective and sustained engagement will require advice and the pursuit of experts.
  • Stay true to American values and democratic principles. For Campbell and his team, the Chen Guangcheng experience required intense diplomacy; without a dedicated team there may have been greater conflict with China.  Because of American involvement in such human rights cases, including working with Aung San Suu Kyi, “We continue to be a beacon of hope and a reminder that there is a better world.”

After his address, Hon. Dr. Kurt Campbell walked offstage to be swamped by the press, including, among others, CCTV and a reporter for a Japanese newspaper.  Not only were the military, government employees and other civilians in the crowd interested in Campbell’s address; perhaps even more so those with direct links to the Asia-Pacific were hanging on his every word.  Over the past year, the Obama administration has continued to emphasize its commitment to the Pacific ‘turn’ through all aspects of international engagement, including defense, diplomacy, international trade, etc.  Strategic allies and general partners in the Asia-Pacific are overall pleased with the US desire to sustain engagement in the region.  In part, this is due to the economic rise of China and its quest for greater regional influence through increased military modernization, expansion of relationships in the region and strengthened voice in international institutions.  From the list of essential elements for successful sustainment, most all require bilateral, multilateral and institutional cooperation – and hence cannot be accomplished by US action alone.

New Militarism: Obama’s Strategy at Home and Abroad

The predator drone resembles a modified miniature passenger jet more than the aggressive looking F-15 or B-1 manned fighter jets and bombers that we are used to. But the remote-operated predator and its peers, with their surveillance equipment and payload of Hell Fire missiles, represent a new age of aggression that appears to require less of US citizens and US allies when even more is at stake.

Like the predator drone, President Barack Obama doesn’t bear the outward militarism of his predecessor. On paper he has withdrawn from one bloody war in the Middle East, is in the process of withdrawing from another, and claims to have greatly decreased the number of civilian casualties in ongoing conflicts. Of course Obama hasn’t turned away from America’s militarist tradition in its entirety, as his reelection ads are quick to point out that America’s worst enemy, Osama Bin Laden, was killed on his watch. But, he has ended the rhetoric of “good versus evil” which was already on the way out at the end of George W. Bush’s second term.

On the flip side, Obama is presiding over stepped-up CIA operations in Afghanistan with forays into neighboring countries and secretive wars and assassinations on both sides of the Gulf of Aden. The current administration has increased funding toward cyber warfare that would put the US on the offensive, and there is building rhetoric and geopolitical maneuvering around a “turn to the Pacific” intended to combat China’s growing influence. Add this to the rash of antidemocratic legislation at home and moves to extend definitions of criminal threats to the state, undermine due process and gag protests and you get a very different perspective on the current administration.

A recent New York Times article reports on Obama’s hands-on approach to personally signing-off on individual drone strikes in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan. The article quotes one of the Bush administration’s top national security lawyers John B. Bellinger III, who attributes the lack of global scrutiny over “hundreds of drone strikes in several different countries, including killing at least some civilians” to Obama’s “liberal reputation” and “softer packaging.” The drone campaign has also avoided criticism at home as it reduces the possibility of US casualties while maintaining a “tough on terrorism” image.

The New York Times article sheds light on the current administration’s controversial method of counting civilian casualties. The method “counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.” In effect the counting method is based on guilt by association: “people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good.” And the method is likely contributing to low collateral deaths in official accounts.

The drone campaign has set a number of worrying precedents. There have been 14 strikes in Yemen, and 6 in Pakistan just since April and the Department of Defense and CIA are staying tight lipped about strikes in Somalia flown out of a base in the neighboring country of Djibouti. Make no mistake; China and Russia are watching the US strategy of crossing national borders and killing foreign nationals with impunity.

In terms of American civil liberties, the September 2011 execution of the American citizen and radical cleric-propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen indicated that the administration could secretively order the execution of American citizens overseas without trial. Attorney General Eric Holder met complaints that the administration had violated the Fifth Amendment guarantee to due process by asserting that “due process and judicial process are not one and the same.” This can be added to the policies that Obama has retained from the Bush years including rendition, military commissions and indefinite detention. Not to be outdone, Obama has also helped push through the National Defense Authorization Act which enables indefinite detention of US citizens at home and bills like HR-347 to increasingly limit and criminalize domestic rights to protests.

Keeping the US’s recent history and ongoing conflicts in the Middle East in mind, it is surprising that Obama’s proclaimed pivot to the Asia-Pacific region is being heralded with optimism. Asia has seen its share of proxy wars (i.e. the Korean and Vietnam wars) and the Pacific has been the theater for war between military powers in the past. At the heart of this pivot are US-China relations and US interests in maintaining access to sea channels and trading partners in the Asia-Pacific. On the one hand, the US is getting ready to engage China on a cyber battlefield, as the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has recently secured a half billion dollars to fund research on cyber weapons and the US and China have already engaged in cyber war games. On the other hand, the US has posted troops in Darwin, Australia, and is working on military technology better equipped for operations in Asia and the Pacific.

We shouldn’t be lured into complacency by Obama’s liberal legal background. The ACLU is steadily building a list of civil rights claims against this administration and foreign administrations should be weary of US moves into the Asia-Pacific region with new tensions building between the US and China. US military strategy under Obama is best represented by the innocuous drones which have become the centerpiece of a take-no-prisoners campaign in the Middle East.

Tai Neilson is a PhD student in Cultural Studies at George Mason University.