Crouching Dragon, Hidden Tiger: Can China and India Dominate the West? by Prem Shankar Jha;
Soft Skull Press; US$16.95
It is natural for any book about economics, finance or politics in China or India to compare the two at some length.
They have the two largest populations in the world and face staggering income gaps between rich and poor. Both were closed economies that opened up slowly and are now in a position to take up global leadership roles, spurred by rapid growth. On the other hand, one is fiercely democratic and the other protectively autocratic. One has a working population rapidly moving toward retirement age and the other is full of eager young people.
Indian journalist and former economist Prem Shankar Jha has penned the latest of these comparisons. Crouching Dragon, Hidden Tiger: Can China and India Dominate the West? is a good choice for anyone looking to read only one book on the subject. It is clear, concise and backed by a lot of interesting recent history.
An India specialist rather than a China wonk, Jha does away with a number of standard platitudes about Chinese and Indian growth. Traditional wisdom holds that in the short term China’s autocratic government gives it a comparative advantage in pursuing economic expansion; in the long term, India’s well-rooted democracy will ensure stability and sustainable growth. That could be the case, says Jha, but it is hardly a certainty. Beijing may find a way to allow citizens to voice opinions that stops short of democracy. India, meanwhile, has a democratic government that has supported a non-elected and widely corrupt bureaucracy and given it massive amounts of power.
The potential political problems are considerable on both sides and ripe for contrast, yet probe beneath the surface in economics and the two countries appear more alike.
The timelines for change are eerily similar. India declared independence in 1947 and China was founded in 1949. China’s opening up began in 1979 while India first moved toward change in 1980. India ostensibly sped up reforms in 1991 while Deng Xiaoping’s southern tour in 1992 took China’s progress up a notch. Both nations were rewarded with periods of boom from 1991 to 1996 in China and from 1992 to 1997 in India. They saw downturns from 1997 to 2002 before entering another period of rapid expansion.
Playing catch up?
Ostensibly, Indian growth has only reached Chinese levels in the last few years. This is based on widely publicized and discussed GDP growth figures. But Jha argues that these numbers don’t paint the whole picture. Undeniably, India has some catching up to do, particularly in terms of infrastructure, but "the gap between the two countries is not as great as the official figures … make it out to be," he writes.
He notes that many economists believe China’s growth rate is not as high as government figures would suggest, while foreign direct investment data are distorted by money that is round-tripped through Hong Kong. Meanwhile, India’s arcane accounting standards actually artificially lowered investment numbers.
In addressing China and India, Jha aims to reveal "similarities in their trajectories of growth" and "experiences that have hitherto remained unnoticed." He does this and quite a bit more. Crouching Dragon, Hidden Tiger is a skillful exploration of how the emergence of these markets could – and likely will – alter the dynamics of the world economy and shift the balance of power.
Nairobi to Shenzhen by Mark Okoth Obama Ndesandjo
Aventine Press; US$16.95
Brother Obama: The audacity of Mark
The brother of US President Barack Obama published a novel a few months ago, released with much publicity, that vanished from the public discourse just as rapidly as it emerged. It was a fitting fate.
Mark Okoth Obama Ndesandjo’s Nairobi to Shenzhen is tragic – and not in a good way. It is obsessively overwritten, short of any kind of cohesion and badly edited (the myriad inaccuracies include the claim that Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1995). Ndesandjo offers only the most superficial insights into China, its people or expats in China.
It’s a shame. There are enough (bad) China books out there. The Obama name has considerable promotional power and, in this case, it is sadly misused.