Two full weeks of travelling and meeting people in different provinces of China can help deconstruct many myths and criticisms about the country and its phenomenal rise on the global stage. Managing 1.35 billion people, enabling a per capita income of about $8500 (PPP) and growing at nearly 9% year on year, is not a task that can be easily replicated. It requires seamless harmonization between politics, economics and social aspirations — an alignment evident in everyday life.
Even a cursory glance at the pace and pattern of development across the vast geography is astonishing. Indeed much of this has been made possible through ruthless implementation of bold and decisive policies across the political and administrative spectrum. To many critics, China can come across as brutally utilitarian. However, by creating a coherent and effective regulatory regime around family planning, China’s policymakers have embedded the levers for socio-economic transformation within the very construct of families and societies. It is instructive to note that China’s one child policy was introduced simultaneous to market reforms. While the restrictive nature of the policy is often criticised, there is no doubt that the one child policy has led to the emancipation of women. Moreover, just as China will likely gradually move towards a more liberal market regime, it will slowly relax this policy.
Similarly, the Chinese Government has ensured that the political economy around land is significantly less convoluted by not giving any landownership to individuals. This has led to a number of socio-economic and political benefits. For example, we found that the inequality among different income classes in the access to agricultural land is virtually absent. There is hardly any inter-generational poverty among the landless - another example of ruthless implementation bearing dividends.
We also realised that the DNA of Chinese governance is not embedded in radical left of centre ideologies but a more progressive performance oriented thinking guided by the intellectual elite who are included in the policymaking process at almost every administrative level; from County to Centre.
Institutional inputs from universities and research centres (even at the village level) are sought throughout the policymaking process. Each province has an organically crafted development model based on a wide range of factors. While governance is administered by those who are selected rather than elected, the efficiency and inclusiveness is achieved by a palpable social solidarity.
Comparisons between India and China are often stretched, with unrealistic parallels drawn between Mumbai and Shanghai. This is done without acknowledgment that in the context of a noisy, increasingly federalist democracy such as India comparisons with China are increasingly aspirational. For example, infrastructure development in India is sabotaged by a combination of socio-political malaise. Moreover, the Chinese State apparatus, manages to deliver basic services including electricity to nearly the entire population; a feat which now seems insurmountable for the Government of India.
Globalisation has left a strong imprint on both China and India. While China has been able to reverse engineer the forces of globalisation to suit its needs, India has dealt with them in a much less strategic or productive way. Over the past three decades China has unleashed market forces with enviable hyper efficiency. While doing so, the country’s social texture changed considerably.
We feel it is likely that in the next three decades would see the Dragon unleash another growth driver and lever of transformation – the English language!
A small episode in a remote Chinese town confirmed our assumptions. Our room-service operator came up to our room and put us in touch with his English teacher over Skype using his Chine made smart-phone. We explained the order through the teacher and hot food was served within another few minutes.
This incredible zest for learning English and service delivery complements the government’s sustained thrust at promoting English as a useful tool in the globalised world. Soon enough, we are more or less certain that the Chinese will start servicing the world — Bangalore and Hyderabad will struggle to stay competitive! The room service operator is positioning himself to be ready for this next silent revolution. The Chinese Dragon is embarking upon a journey towards 22nd century. The transition of power in the Politburo is perhaps little more than a symbolic representation of this strategic continuity.
Vivan Sharan is an Associate Fellow and Saurabh Johri, a Programme Advisor at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi