March 18, 2008


China and India: Oh to be different (Pallavi Aiyar , 3/19/08, Asia Times)

[W]hile much has changed, China's response to the events in Tibet is also indicative of how much remains unchanged. The official response to the protests in Lhasa and elsewhere, the most serious in two decades, do not indicate the discovery by Beijing of "Olympic-new" savvy ways of crisis control. Instead, the Chinese people and the world have only been subjected to the same old tired responses officialdom resorts to given any sign of discontentment among the Tibetan population.

This is a response that essentially amounts to a denial of any fundamental problem. The elements are familiar: a scapegoating and vilification of the Dalai Lama, a refusal to grant any legitimacy to Tibetan disaffection and an insistence on the myth of elemental "harmony" among all "Chinese" people, including Tibetans.

This denial of legitimate differences is ultimately the greatest difference between China and Asia's other major rising power, India.

Indians who visit Chinese cities are invariably awestruck by the infrastructure. They look at the silken-smooth multi-lane highways with barely concealed envy, no doubt comparing them to the pot-holed clumps of tar more familiar as roads back home. They marvel at the relatively orderly flow of traffic on the broad avenues, unobstructed by stray cows. They remark on the absence of slums and beggars on the streets.

China has not only built cities that are almost impossibly modern from an Indian point of view, it has also provided jobs and opportunities for upward mobility for millions of migrant workers from the countryside.

China's economic achievement over the past 30-odd years has in fact been unparalleled historically. However, a point usually unrecognized by Indians impressed by China's glitter is the fact that so is India's political feat.

China's southern neighbor's democracy is almost unique among post-colonial states not simply for its existence but its existence against all odds in a country held together not by geography, language or ethnicity but by an idea.

A nation is necessarily racialist (usually downnright racist). Only a country can be multiethnic/multiconfessional.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 18, 2008 7:56 AM

It is easier to become rich than it is to become free. It is much harder to become both rich and free. It is even harder to remain rich and free.

To their regret, in the end, the Chinese will find out they have only become richer, not freer, while the Indians will be both rich and free.

The story of the tortoise and the hare is taking place before our eyes.

Posted by: X at March 18, 2008 9:17 AM