Chasing the Red Dragon

Several economists and experts have declared that the 21st century will belong to China and India and that both countries are on their way to becoming superpowers. While the Chinese dragon seems to have made remarkable progress, the Indian tiger is lagging behind. India’s Prime Minster spoke of making Mumbai (Bombay) a bigger economic powerhouse than Shanghai. Anybody who has visited both cities would probably die of laughter on hearing such a statement. Consider this, 65% of Bombay’s residents live in slums and this number is growing day by day. China, on the other hand, doesn’t allow the rural poor into its big cities. ‘The Economist’ once noted that if China allowed the rural poor into its cities, it would have 15 Mumbais.

Many Indian and Western economists have argued that China distorts its figures and that the progress is confined to the major cities. While it is true that pollution hazards and dumping in rivers have made life almost unbearable in some Chinese rural areas, economic development seems to be spreading more rapidly in China than in its southern neighbour. China is developing at such a rate that even His Holiness the Dalai Lama seems to think that it is in Tibet’s best interests to be a province of China.

Another argument that analysts make is that if China is really so prosperous, Chinese citizens wouldn’t be hiding in containers to escape to greener pastures. There is sufficient proof of the existence of over 3 million illegal Chinese immigrants in Russia as well as substantial numbers in other neighbours including Myanmar. Reports in newspapers like the New York Times indicate that China is also facing growing unemployment. India’s business community is extremely confident that India won’t lose its IT and BPO edge to China as English Language Proficiency is still poor in the Middle Kingdom.

These factors aside, let us look at the internationally accepted facts and figures and compare India’s progress with that of China. These figures were released by the pro-Government of India, ‘Times of India’ on October 24.


Population below
international poverty line

Life Expectancy
at Birth

Infant Mortality

Adult literacy


Gross National



63 years



1.06 billion

US$ 568 billion



71 years



1.29 billion

US$ 1471 billion



Population below
Gross National
Income Per Capita

Annual GDP growth


as % of total exports

Carbon Dioxide
emissions (million tonnes)


US$ 530


US$ 69.7 billion




US$ 1000


112.8 billion




The above figures clearly indicate that India is behind China in just about every area. It is not worth going into detail about how far advanced China’s sports programme is compared to that of India. While the mandarins of New Delhi’s south block talk about India being a Superpower soon, the fact is that India doesn’t even have the clout or infrastructure to host the Olympic Games. We all know where the next Olympics will be held.

India launched a major tourism drive worldwide to attract foreign tourists and this year the number should touch the so-called magic mark of 3 million arrivals. Of course China receives 20 million foreign tourists (not including those from Hong Kong and Macau). It is estimated that by 2020, China will become the world’s largest tourist destination. Tourism is one industry where India clearly has many advantages over China. English is widely spoken in India and it’s much easier to buy train and bus tickets and get around the country, but China has offset this advantage by installing absolutely superior infrastructure. Even a small airport like the one in Harbin is much better than Bombay or New Delhi’s international airports. China has also reached several agreements with other countries to bring in more flights. The international connections to remote provinces have ensured that tourists don’t just have to enter the country through Shanghai or Beijing.

India’s public universities at one time attracted many foreign students from other developing countries. The number of foreign students studying in India has dropped from 12,765 in 1992-93 to 7,745 in 2003-04. This has happened in a country where the medium of instruction is English. China has more than 60,000 students enrolled this year!

The dragon also wins hands down in Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) and no figures are really needed to support this argument. For FDI, China has a one-window clearance system and companies don’t have to face the mounting red tape they do when wanting to invest in India. And finally, China has managed to rope in investment from overseas Chinese. India hasn’t fully exploited the potential of overseas Indians, although some initiative has been taken to bring in investment from non-resident Indians and people of Indian origin. The global Indian, like any investor, doesn’t want to waste too much energy and effort on a country where ‘Leftists’ are trying to impose outdated communist ideologies, which have even been discarded by Russia and China.

All’s not lost for India. There still exists tremendous potential in the vast country of a billion people. However synchronised planning is required at the micro and macro levels. The future of India lies in education of the masses. It’s not enough that India has the world class Indian Institutes of Technology or Indian Institutes of Management. India needs to ensure that the villages of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan have high quality schools that not just give a world class education but also help root out the existing caste and religion-based divisions in Indian society. Another important factor in India’s development is the instilment of patriotic fervour. Japan’s economic miracle was as much a result of a strong national spirit as it was of hard work. At this point of time, India’s cricket players and movie stars have a tremendous deal of influence over the people. After all, they can convince people to buy soft drinks and junk food and expensive cars and cellular phones. This same influence needs to be diverted into generating patriotic (not jingoistic) fervour. Time is running out for India, the population is still growing at an alarming rate and the number of the jobless adults is only going to increase if the things don’t drastically change. With a ticking demographic time-bomb, the time is now for India to take its very own ‘great leap forward.’