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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Myths & conceptions about India-China trade

August 25, 2008

The Economic Tmes
August 24, 2008

Two "distant" neighbours. Decades of communication gap. Lack of
connectivity. Inadequate understanding of each other's cultures,
systems and orientation. This is the India-China relationship, or
lack thereof, since the early 60s.

In the late 90s, Indian Industry was running scared of competition
from China, partly out of ignorance and partly because of lack of

Much of this is past -- trade and investment have taken quantum
leaps. From $40 bn bilateral trade in 2007 its heading towards $60 bn
now. But the basic problem remains. There is still lack of
understanding of the Chinese — and China — in India, among Indians.

This is where Pallavi Aiyar's Smoke and Mirrors fills an incredible
gap and plays a terrific role. Written in a simple, straightforward,
easy-to-read, style, Smoke and Mirrors is a must read for Indians.

Littered with anecdotes and real-time conversations, the book
actually de-mystifies the enigma that is China. At once amusing and
contemplative, Aiyar highlights the internal contradictions within
Chinese society and polity with aplomb: the pre-Olympics rapid
modernisation of Beijing and the cost to its rich cultural heritage,
issues related to corruption, dissent, political ideology (or the
lack thereof), economic progress, infrastructural and rural
development, intellectual stagnation, internet activism etc are the
myriad themes that line the narrative.

Juxtaposed with her own uniquely Indian background, Aiyar often
compares India and China, the former the world's largest democracy
and the latter a single party Communist dictatorship.

The difference of course is that in India democracy does not bring
economic guarantees for its poor and marginalised and where democracy
has often been reduced to the act of casting one's vote; while
non-democratic China has lifted millions out of poverty but continues
to stifle political and cultural dissent and stringently fetters the
independence of the media.

What stands out in Aiyar's narrative is her own internal conflict as
she continually re-assesses the comparative advantages of each
country without broad black and white characterisations.

Going beyond the reductionist question of whether economic liberty is
more important than political and cultural liberty, Aiyar succeeds in
stressing merits, demerits and the grey areas of each concern,
especially the ways in which the poorest in each country are impacted.

Aiyar suggests that it is because of the deliverance of economic
benefits that the CCP in China has continued to hold on to power in
China. Interestingly, she suggests that in India, political leaders
do not derive their legitimacy from good governance, but by the mere
fact of having been voted into power -- a luxury CCP leaders in China
do not enjoy.

At the same time, she says that because of the availability of space
for debate, discussion and opposition in India, the state is more
equipped to deal with sudden shocks than China — a fact bourne out by
the government's knee-jerk handling of the SARS epidemic.

However, since the book was published, China has faced a huge
earthquake in Sinchuan, riots in Tibet and the international
condemnation that followed.

 From all indications, the state is becoming better equipped to deal
with such natural and man-made catastrophes, while manipulating the
state media to rally nationalist support in favor of the Olympics and
against the 'splittist' Dalai Lama. A second edition of Smoke and
Mirrors hence already seems in order.
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