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India needs a stronger China policy: Bill Emmott

Bill Emmott was in India recently, on his “umpteenth visit”, to promote his latest book, Rivals: How the Power Struggle Between China, India and Japan will Shape our Next Decade. He spent some time with BT’sKushan Mitra in New Delhi dicussing the new Asian power paradigm. Excerpts:

Print Edition: June 1, 2008

Bill Emmott
Bill Emmott
Bill Emmott was editor of The Economist for 13 years from 1993-2006, during which he observed first hand the incredible rise of China and India. He is also one of the world’s leading experts on Japan, and has written six books about the country. Emmott was in India recently, on his “umpteenth visit”, to promote his latest book, Rivals: How the Power Struggle Between China, India and Japan will Shape our Next Decade. He spent some time with BT’sKushan Mitra in New Delhi dicussing the new Asian power paradigm. Excerpts:

Q.Do you really think that the “conflict” you talk about in your book between Asia’s major powers could actually lead to an armed conflict?
A.
I don’t think it will ever come to that. There is too much to lose in such a conflict today, which is why I don’t believe that war will ever break out. I believe things can be solved politically.

Q. But war as a diversion, to deflect attention. Maybe in China?
A.There might be some issues across the Taiwan Straits, but not much more.

Q.You have spoken about the unwritten covenant between the Chinese people and the government, wherein the former forego political freedom in return for economic growth. Can the current slowdown in the US spread to China? And will it affect China’s stability?
A.
That is an interesting point. In return for the Chinese people accepting little political freedom, the Chinese government has given them fantastic growth year after year. Yes, an American slowdown will have some impact on China, but if you study China, you will see that the European Union is now its largest trading partner. If there is a localised slowdown only in the US, it might only dent China’s growth slightly. A broader slowdown might mean that Chinese growth will slow down and that might lead to some trouble at home. It will be interesting to see how the Chinese government deals with that.

Q. The Chinese media has become progressively freer and bloggers are always trying to scale the ‘Great Firewall’ of China…
A. It is quite fascinating to see this. Chinese leaders are more peoplefriendly than they have ever been because the media in China is more important than ever before. During the snowstorms earlier this year, the Chinese leadership went out to the people because they knew that the media would haul them up if they didn’t.

Q. The recent protests over the Olympic Torch have fired up both Tibetans and the Chinese. Why are the Chinese so angry?
A.
I think the Chinese think that the world is not seeing the full picture. The incidents in Tibet did involve a lot of Han Chinese getting attacked and killed, and many Chinese felt that the military action happened too late. Also, there is a feeling, at a moment, of immense national pride, that events are being overtaken by something else in the world.

Q. What about Indian policies with regard to China?
A. I really think India needs to have a stronger Chinese policy going forward. I don’t think there is much of a policy right now.

Q. Both countries also have incredible inequality among their people; will this impact future growth?
A. I believe both governments are acutely aware of this problem, and are trying to make sure that there is some semblance of inclusive growth. In India, you must know what the government is trying to do, and I believe in China also, the government is trying very hard to ensure that the poorer provinces do not get left behind.

Q. In India you often see chaos and poor infrastructure. China is more organised and has great roads and airports. Can India ever catch up?
A. I certainly believe that India can and will catch up, if the policies it adopts are correct. India is where China was eight or 10 years ago.

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