Consider this - China is home to 1.3 billion people; India has a population of more than 1.1 billion. Together the two countries are home to nearly 40% of the world's population. In the next decade, they will become the largest and third-largest economies in terms of purchasing power. The return of the once-dormant economies of China and India to dynamism and growth is one of the most remarkable stories in recent history, but until recently neither had played an influential role in the contemporary global economy. In the past two decades, China and India have liberalised internal economic policy, treatment of foreign investment, and trade, and have experienced economic growth at sustained high rates. From the point of view of the United States, however, the most important development in the Chinese and Indian economies in the long term may be the strides they are making in developing their own domestic innovation capacities. After a long period of underinvestment, both countries have committed to growing their science and education systems to bolster research and further economic expansion. The essay looks at the scope of these two countries becoming important global powers in the next decades.
History of the global power politics
The distribution of power capabilities in the international system determines the number of the great powers and, consequently, the polarity of the international system. If the great powers are more than two, the system will be multi-polar; if they are two, it will be bipolar, while systems with only one great power are considered unipolar.
·By the end of World War II, the multi-polar international system characterised by the pursuit of the balance of power among great powers, transformed in bipolarity.
·The bipolar world was dominated by two opposite great powers with strong economic, military, and cultural influence on their allies: the United States (US) and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) created an international system with no peripheries and with two different spheres of influence which resulted in stability for more than 40 years and assured peace between the two great powers and limited wars in the rest of the world.
·After the collapse of the USSR and the end of the Cold War, the US emerged as the only great power of a new unipolar international system.
·However, the recent rise of new powers such as the so-called BRIC countries – Brazil, Russia, India and China– could soon result in a return to a multi-polar international system.
Current unipolarism and its fate
In a unipolar system the power of a state is not balanced and controlled by the other states, this inequality allows the hegemon of the international system to influence and shape the rest of the world. After 1989 the US has been considered the militarily, economically, and technologically leading country of the world. This unbalanced preponderance has been promoted and reinforced by some factors. The US geographic position assured the security of the country for many years: while other states – for example China, Russia and the European countries – are land powers surrounded by potential enemies, the US is isolated and too far away from its potential threats. US military capabilities assure it a strong sea and air power and allow it to projects its force globally, enabling it to hit a target everywhere at every time. Yet the notion of hegemony does not only imply geographical security and military influence, but also political and cultural hegemony.
From an economic point of view, the US laid the foundations of the global liberal economic order long before the unipolar era, supporting the Bretton Woods system, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade which was replaced in 1994 by the World Trade Organization, and indirectly controlling some international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Politically, during the Cold War, American power supported anti-communist governments in order to counter the spread of the socialist values.
Many scholars of politics consider unipolarity as a source of potential instability and danger, which eventually leads other actors to try to counterbalance the power of the hegemon. Overstretched and facing an economic crisis, the US could finally withdraw from some of its international engagements and open new vacuums of power that could be refilled and occupied by other regional competitors.
Rise of India and China: realities
The rise of China and India could shift the political and economic centre of the world to Asia in the next decade. China and India share many similarities: both have a huge population, high economic growth, and are ancient civilizations. Yet, both differ in terms of their political and economic structure and progress. Since opening up in 1978, China has developed into a nation with a larger and wealthier population than India, with the per capita income of an average Chinese citizen being three times that of an average Indian. While China is considered ‘The Factory of the World’ because of its reputation for exporting low-cost manufactured goods and merchandise, India is a global centre for services, specifically, a hub for outsourcing business work processes and software.
·China has increased its military spending by 170% in real terms since 2002, and by more than 500% since 1995. Moreover, it is acquiring parts of the American economic debt and could economically overtake the US in the next decades.
·India has been among the ten fastest growing economies of the World since 1980 and projected that in the next decades its growth rate would reach the top three. India’s growth would continue and increase in the coming decade if economic reforms continue and are expanded and large-scale structural changes are undertaken to support growth.
·In this new context, the rise of India and China will have significant economic impact, especially on the US.
·China and India have taken different routes to enter the world economy, and that has resulted in their gaining complementary strengths. In the process, they have become globally competitive.
·More interestingly, India’s growth, unlike China’s, which relies extensively on foreign capital and export markets, has derived largely from internal sources. Accordingly, many analysts have concluded that continuing economic reforms will enable the country not only to reach its targeted objective of sustained double-digit growth but also to catch up with China in coming decades.
·These complementarities pose both an opportunity and a threat. It’s easy to spot the advantages of treating China and India synergistically and getting the best of both worlds. Companies can use China to make almost anything cheaply. They can turn to India to design and develop products cost-effectively; they can also hire Indian talent to market and service products.
·India’s constant population growth will support and reinforce its steady but inexorable economic rise. Increments of population and growing economy will also underpin and foster the rise of Brazil, a country which in the future could play a pivotal role in the Latin American region.
·Furthermore, new scenarios could shape the future power distribution and contribute to the rise of new great powers: global warming for example could allow a regional actor such as Russia to exploit its natural resources in the Siberian soil, which could be used to challenge US supremacy.
The rise of China and India represents a geopolitical event of historic proportions. Rarely has the global system witnessed the re-emergence of two major powers simultaneously - states that possess large populations, have ancient histories, and dominate the geographic environs within which they are located. Their return to centre stage after several centuries of imperial domination thus is the reincarnation of an earlier era in Asian geopolitics when China and India were among the most important concentrations of political power in the international system. The recent emergence of China and India is owed in large measure to their productive integration into the liberal economic order, in the post-war period. As a result of that integration, both of these giants have experienced dramatic levels of economic growth in recent decades.
(Sources: e-ir.info / link.springer.com / hbr.org)