Seeing Is More Than Believing: China`s development and lessons thereof

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By Amar Yumnam

It is said that seeing is believing. This applies in a much more robust way in the case of the Chinese growth performance in the last two decades or so. The changes happening in China are to be seen to believe. What is more significant is the speed with which the changes have taken place. Besides, the speed with which the changes are occurring, the coverage is extended to even the places other than Beijing and Shanghai, and to where once considered to be the soft underbelly of the Chinese economy. The fast developmental changes are taking place in places like the Yunnan province and most visibly in the provincial capital Kunming. I was in this city in 2011 and was again there recently. In these two years, such changes have taken place and on such a scale that 2011 is not a guide to understand this city in 2013.  It establishes the inclusiveness and spread of the Chinese drive for economic growth.

Here it would be interesting to know what has happened to global poverty in recent years. Between 1990 and 2010, the world has been able to lift one billion people out of poverty. This achievement within such a short period has never happened before in international development history. The rest of the world contributed one-fourth in this performance while the Chinese accounted for the rest; the Chinese performance during 1981-2010 has been such that the proportion of extreme poverty in this country has declined from 84 per cent in 1980 to 10 per cent today.

The extreme contrast between the Chinese development articulation and the Indian pattern would be rewarding to focus on at this point. The emphasis on widening the spread of development and the inclusiveness in geographic and demographic terms is salient in the case of China. This is evident in both the official policy articulation and the academic pursuits of policy issues. In the Indian case the picture is of absolute contrast. The official articulation of policy interventions in India are evidently domineering and paternalistic in approach rather than widening the development spread and deepening the inclusiveness of development impact. This is true about Indian academics as well. The beauty of American academic articulation, for example, is the marked presence of the larger framework to focus on any issue. This is now salient in the case of China as well. The official Chinese emphasis today on Kunming as a centre of global happening in addition to Beijing and Shanghai speaks volumes in this regard. The rising involvement of scholars based in Kunming and Chengdu in global level articulations of development dynamics signifies the inclusiveness and widening of intellectual foundations for development policy making in the case of China. The Indian scholars would articulate in such a way that the sub-regional interests pre-dominate rather than encompassing the wider national approaches. While articulating on the international issues, this approach comes out with worse characteristics. The Indian perspective is emphasised as overriding as and more important than that of the neighbouring countries. The worse part is that the Indian policy articulation by both intellectuals and officials is seen as reflection of the Indian habit for indulgence in arm-twisting by the officials and academics from the neighbouring countries. While not spelling out in the public, the officials and intellectuals in the neighbouring countries seem to be more knowledgeable of the ruling Indian mind and the dominant Indian vested interest. The Indian side indulges in ignoring the perspectives of the neighbours and superimposing their views rather than encompassing and accommodating the other perspectives. This has led to a kind of situation where the neighbours endeavour to accommodate the Indian perspective knowing fully well inside the covert Indian interests. In other words, the officials and the intellectuals in India lack knowledge of the ethos, perspectives and concerns of the others and tend to be highly rigid on accommodative necessities. This naturally leads to the decline of core respectability of the Indian approaches, and in a covert way. This does not serve the interest of India and slows down the emergence of a foundation for a truly Asian century.

Time is now for India to absorb lessons from the spread, connectivity and inclusiveness of the Chinese industrialisation approaches in the last decade. Time is also for India to learn of the emphases and concerns of the neighbouring countries on development dynamics. This implies at least two imperatives in which areas India should unfailingly evolve a culture and a capability. Within the country, India must accept and appreciate the potential to use as national strength the long stretch of international borders with several neighbouring countries. It involves rediscovering the strength and concerns of the border areas and their trans-border concerns. It is not subversion but enhancing the networked social strength of heterogeneity in the border areas for the brighter future of the country which is imperative today. This internal re-orientation should also be replicated in the international approaches of collaboration and political-economic networking by this country.

Here the absence of a holistic concern in the North Eastern part of India is loud. But the recent initiatives put in place by the Chief Minister of Manipur during his visit to the neighbouring areas in Myanmar should be given widespread involvement and follow-ups by all. This is where the region can and should absolutely look for a place in the evolving regional dynamics. This one example should be multiplied and efforts put in place in a commensurate pattern. The moment is historical and the needed efforts are absolutely contextual.

(Amar Yumnam is the Director of Center for Manipur Studies and Prof. of Department of Economics, Manipur University)

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