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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One Response to Comparing the Economic, Political and Strategic Rise of China and India

  1. Way cool! Some very valid points! I appreciate you penning this write-up and also the rest of the website
    is also very good.

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