If you believed the conventional wisdom, this week’s meeting between Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was bound to be fraught. The leaders of the world’s two largest countries, only a month removed from a standoff in the Himalayas, were meeting. Acrimony was sure to follow, right?
No. Instead, Li said he offered India a “handshake across the Himalayas” and mused about how China and India could increase their trade to $100 billion by 2015. China and India, you see, aren’t as antagonistic as pundits make them out to be.
Aside from each having more than 1 billion people, China and India actually have very little in common. The two are divergent — yet their economies are largely complementary. India is struggling to regain its torrid growth of the mid-2000s; China is closer to maintaining it. India, thanks to corruption and regulation, doesn’t build much infrastructure; China can’t stop. Indians have started to bring their entrepreneurship to China, since their domestic market is so flawed and because China itself has so few entrepreneurs. China, meanwhile, has started to send some basic low-scale manufacturing to India, as the cost and quality of Chinese labor rises.
Global policy wonks have long worried that in 20 years, India and China would both be so big that a conflict would become inevitable. Whether the conflict stemmed from security concerns or resource restraints — for example, China and India constitute 37 percent of the world’s population but have just 10.8 percent of the world’s fresh water — the two countries were on track to greater antagonism. It turns out these concerns are overblown.
There is, however, a brewing tension between China and Brazil that people don’t fully appreciate. China and Brazil are two countries with steady growth, activist state sectors and hugely popular governments. They’ll be in the same corner of the world stage for decades. Both argue for a more multi-polar and equitable world order ‑ read: one that is less U.S.-driven ‑ which makes them good fits for the BRICs. But when you compare the Brazilian and Chinese visions of what this new order should look like, it’s clear there is a very small common denominator on most issues, from currency to climate change to human rights.