LEADER ARTICLE: A Troubled Neighbourhood TOI 3 Mar 2008, Meghnad Desai
My present worry about China is that it seems very fragile underneath its strong exterior. A standard complaint of visitors and policy-makers to India has been the sad state of India's infrastructure. Look at China, they've all said. But over the harvest moon festival last month, China's infrastructure fell apart in ways India's has never done. Mind you moving 150 million over one weekend cannot be easy.
I have been in China at this time few years ago. The place goes mad. It is like Pongal and Diwali and Id in one fell swoop. The transport chaos was spectacular, and, for days on end, there was no solution in sight. Power shortage added to the snowstorm and the Chinese prime minister had to apologise publicly.
The point is that while China has built up infrastructure at the posh end - eight-lane highways leading to Shanghai airport and the maglev trains - local passenger suffers from shortages. It is a mark of the elitist model China is following in its growth path which treats ordinary people like dirt. The basic reason for that is the undemocratic nature of the government.
In a recent book, Mark Leonard, who runs a think tank on foreign policy in London, reports on the many discussions going on within China about economic and political reform. Two things struck me. The Chinese intellectuals find myriad objections to democracy - western style, corrupt, limited voter choice etc. They evade the issues cleverly and one can see that until the big brother gives a nod from above, there will be no real progress.
But neither the intellectuals quoted there nor the author himself points out the obvious that next to China, India has already experimented with democracy successfully for 60 years. Indian democracy has its problems but the dishonest evasion of Chinese intellectuals who pray for a perfect democracy or none is pathetic.
The chickens are coming home to roost very soon. When China got the 2008 Olympics, it was argued that this would encourage human rights there. Now Steven Spielberg has already resigned from helping the Olympics event due to China's policy in Darfur. Prince Charles has refused to go there because of Tibet and British athletes are up in arms after being told they can't make a political gesture such as the historic black power salute in the 1968 Olympics. The Falun Gong will no doubt exploit the presence of 50,000 media persons to get one of them shot in full daylight and cause one or more countries to boycott the games. This is what happened in 1980 in Moscow. It will happen in Beijing this year. China will face humiliation. It may even trigger a destabilising reaction like the Cultural Revolution. Don't say I didn't warn you. The writer is a member of the British House of Lords