State, strategy, power & policy: China and India
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Issue Vol 23.3 Jul-Sep2008 | Date : 30 Jun , 2011

China has its share of problems. It is a net importer of foodgrains and energy. It has serious environmental issues and pollution of air and water is rampant along the eastern coast, which is the hub of industrial production and home to a vast majority of labour.

Before applying the equation to China and India, it would be interesting to evaluate USA, the only superpower today and Russia, the successor state to an erstwhile superpower.

If the model is applied to USA, the dominant power in the world today, it would score very high in ‘critical mass’. It has a vast area of 9.8 million sq km and an optimum population of 304 million. The quality of the manpower, with a median age of 36.7, is very good with 99 per cent literacy and high skill levels in science, technology and R&D. The US has a GDP of $ 13.84 trillion when calculated against purchase power parity (PPP) or official exchange rate (OER) and a growth rate of 2.2 per cent. It has the most potent military in the world with a budget of $ 700 billion or 4.06 per cent of GDP per year.

The strategic purpose of the USA is to maintain well being of all its citizens, sustain the forces of democracy and protect its vital interests wherever they lie on the globe. The US has demonstrated on many occasions that it is willing to use all means to pursue national strategy. USA scores very high on all counts and its perceived power is very high. Despite the recent slowdown of its economy or the loss of credibility due to its messy and unwinnable status in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US is likely to remain the predominant power in the world for the foreseeable future.

Russia, the successor state of an earlier superpower which had challenged USA for global leadership, presents a study in contrast.Despite the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Russia remains the largest country in the world with an area more than 17 million sq km. It has a population of 140 million whose median age is 38.3. It has a major problem with its population shrinking by 0.5 per cent (700,000 this year) annually. Despite a literacy rate of 99.4 per cent, the labour force has begun to reduce and this will impact on all aspects of the Russian state. On the economic front it has managed to pull itself out of an abyss due to it being the prime energy exporter in Europe. Its GDP(PPP) is $ 2.088 trillion and GDP(OER) is $ 1.286 trillion. It has a healthy growth rate of 8.1 per cent but 22 million of its shrinking population is below the poverty line.

Russia’s military and military industrial complex had been very negatively affected post the collapse and it is only now that the rebuild process has gathered momentum. Russia spends $50 billion or 3.9 per cent of its GDP(OER) on its military. Russia’s strategic leverage and will to pursue national strategy have been seriously undermined. The creeping NATOisation of its backyard and Russia playing second fiddle to USA are indicative of its diminishing clout in the world. Consequently its perceived power has degraded. If the negative population growth can somehow be stemmed, then the massive energy reserves will enable Russia to regain some of its power status.

Also read: Blueprint for Indian Aerospace Industry

China is the most populous country in the world with its population at 1.33 billion whose median age is 33.6. It has the world’s fourth largest territory of 9.59 million sq km. It has a literacy rate of 91 per cent and its population growth rate has been brought under control by a state enforced policy of ‘one family one child’. It has the fastest growing economy in the world with an average growth rate of 9.4 per cent for the past 25 years. China’s economy has increased tenfold since 1978. It has a GDP(PPP) of $ 6.991 trillion and GDP(OER) of $ 3.251 trillion and is second only to the USA in the world. It has a labour force of 803 million which is ageing. The People’s Liberation Army of China is the largest in the world, numbering 2.3 million and includes land, naval, air and strategic forces.

There is a wide gap between the perceived power status between China and India and India will have to take tough strategic decisions with maturity and pragmatism to reduce the gap.

In the last decade or so China has modernised its armed forces by acquiring state-of-the-art weaponry from Russia, improving its own military industrial complex and adopting new training and personnel policies. It is the pre-dominant military power in the region with realistic intentions of becoming a superpower. Though China claims to spend only $ 60 billion on its military, most analysts agree that actual expenditure on its military is around 4.3 per cent of its GDP(OER) or $ 140 billion annually. The increasing economic and military clout has further strengthened China’s will to pursue its strategic national interests. It is best demonstrated by the ‘One China’ policy which lays down that Taiwan is a part of China, temporarily estranged. China has made it clear that it will brook no interference in this regard and even the USA walks warily around this issue. China’s perceived power is high and rising rapidly.

China has its share of problems. It is a net importer of foodgrains and energy. It has serious environmental issues and pollution of air and water is rampant along the eastern coast, which is the hub of industrial production and home to a vast majority of labour. The ‘one child’ policy has begun to skew the age profile of the population and the productive labour force. The totalitarian type of governance in China may, in the future, clash with rising affluence of individuals and desire for greater personal liberty. The regionally lopsided development with the interior, home to most of China’s 110 million below poverty line population and largely unaffected by the economic boom will fuel discontent. Repression of Tibetans and denial of human rights to many are festering sores that China will have to confront with soon.

India has an area of 3.28 million sq km, nearly half of which is arable.It has a population of 1.15 billion of which 61 per cent are literate but a huge 25 per cent or 280 million are living below the poverty line. The median age of the population is only 25.1 indicating that a large reservoir of productive work force will be available for many years in the future provided the basic requirements of health and education are met. India’s GDP(PPP) is $ 2.989 trillion and GDP(OER) is $ 1.099 trillion. The real growth rate is a healthy 9.2 per cent. The economy could grow faster but the balancing acts in the country’s fractious democracy have necessitated compromises.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

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Air Marshal Narayan Menon

Air Marshal Narayan Menon

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