Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Democratic India versus Disciplined China

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Democratic India versus Disciplined China

Article excerpt

In an interview with Aaron Brown of ABC News on June 28, David Pong, Hong Kong industrialist, commented that democracy is a luxury that rich nations can afford, but it is messy and inefficient. Think about India, he said: "There is a country celebrating the 50th year of democratic rule and its gross domestic product is half that of China."

Mr. Pong's comments point to the interesting convergence of attitudes of Hong Kong business elites and Communist leaders in Beijing. Both want stability and order at the expense of freedom. His comments also define a global issue of great importance to the United States: Can democracy and dynamic economies in Asia coexist? Will democratic India or authoritarian China be the model for the Asian future?

India and China have similarities. Each has a substantial part of the world's population. China leads with 1.2 billion, and India is second with 929 million (1995 figures). Both countries represent huge potential markets. Corruption bedevils the political process, and regional stresses threaten national cohesion in both nations. They each struggle with aggravating environmental problems. China has the advantage of an entrepreneurial dynamism, but has serious infrastructure bottlenecks. India has the more developed infrastructure and a firmly established, largely apolitical, legal system. The statistics favor China, although not as much as Pong suggested. Stimulated by a new commitment to economic reform declared at the 14th Congress of the Communist Party of China in November 1993, China's economic growth rate in 1995 was 8.9 percent But India is catching up. As a World Bank report notes, "Helped by reforms, a relaxation in fiscal policies, and an unprecedented sequence of good monsoons, growth accelerated to 5 percent in 1992-94, 6 percent in 1994-95, and an estimated 7 percent in 1995-96." Clearly, economic policies play a major role in the vitality of a nation. The new liberalization introduced in China by Deng Xiaoping and India's move away from a centrally planned economy both stimulated growth. But, beyond these moves, what factors will determine success in this contest between India's democracy and China's discipline? …

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