India measures itself against a China that couldn’t care less

It seems to be a national obsession in India: measuring the country’s economic development against China’s yardstick.

At a recent panel discussion to commemorate the 20th anniversary of India’s dismantling parts of its socialist economy, a government minister told business leaders to keep their eye on the big prize: growing faster than China. “That’s not impossible,” said the minister, Palaniappan Chidambaram, who oversees national security and previously was finance minister. “People are beginning to talk about outpacing China.”

Indians, in fact, seem to talk endlessly about all things China, a neighbor with whom they have long had a prickly relationship, but which is also one of the few other economies that has had 8 percent or more annual growth in recent years…

“Indians are obsessed with China, but the Chinese are paying too little attention to India,” said Minxin Pei, an economist who was born in China and who writes a monthly column for The Indian Express, a national daily newspaper…

It might be only natural that the Chinese would look up the development ladder to the United States, now that it is the only nation in the world with a larger economy, rather than over their shoulders at India, which ranks ninth. And while China is India’s largest trading partner, the greatest portion of China’s exports go to the United States. China’s largest trading partner is the EU – even if it doesn’t fit the NYT editorial template.

Evidence of the Indo-Sino interest disparity can be seen in the two countries’ leading newspapers. The People’s Daily, the Chinese Communist Party’s house organ, had only 24 articles mentioning India on its English-language Web site in the first seven months of this year, according to the Factiva database. By contrast, The Times of India, the country’s largest circulation English-language newspaper, had 57 articles mentioning China — in July alone.

There are other big gaps. Indian cities, large and small, are filled with Chinese restaurants that serve a distinctly ultraspicy, Indian version of that cuisine. But there are few Indian restaurants in Beijing or Shanghai, let alone in smaller Chinese cities.

RTFA. It rolls on through a chunk of anecdotal information. Useful as far as it goes. And it only goes as far as the NY TIMES habit of continuing the Cold War with China – even though it finally seems to have relented a little over Russia.

Completely lacking from the analysis is where both nations started out. There are many parallels and economics were certainly similar at the end of the 1940’s as both countries stepped out into liberation from a foreign yoke in the case of India and a comprador class intertwined with warlords and bandits in China.

Frankly, the significant historic difference lies in handicaps which India retains. Much of the caste system is unrelenting regardless of lip service and law. China’s bureaucratic corruption siphons off a lot less opportunity and value. India’s cachet of wealth and power held by historically “important” families is closer to Japan’s Zaibatsu than anything in China. Ongoing commitments to religion in India – whether as a cultural anchor or dedicated political parties – hinders the growth of the economy as much as you would expect from theocratic ideologues in government.

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