Today, China is led under the auspices of Xi Jinping. His predecessor, three predecessors ago, Deng Xiaoping, according to the sinologist Roderick MacFarquhar, had conservative patriarchs like Chen Yun in the party for him to appease and contend with. Xi stands alone, according to MacFarquhar.
Indeed, the market turmoil in Shanghai is a unsettling. There may yet be a credit crisis in China looming. But whether China slows down by 2 percentage points or 4, in aggregate China's growth will still be very significant. Xi's stated aim is to usher a "restoration" of China. Xi's is not a supplicant China. His is not a liberal and democratic and cozy-to-Western-values China: Xi may take dribs and drabs of Confucianism and particular snippets of Maoism, cherry-picking and amalgamating towards a new neo-Confucianism. Nor is it a world-weary and disinterested China.
(Shucks, I'm burying the lede again)
For all the bridge-building in terms of trade and transnational investment-development projects like the Maritime Silk Road, Xi’s China is a wall-erecter too. Notwithstanding the ongoing anticorruption campaign to catch so-called “tigers and flies,” which is raising hard walls, evident in the new restrictions mainland Chinese face to gamble in Macau (clear in the month-after-month of consecutive revenue declines in 2014[i]), including new “know your customer” regulations and more obstacles for shadowy lending practices being enforced to clamp down on money-laundering. Other examples are the doubling-down on the Great Firewall, whereby once immune VPN’s (virtual private networks) that could circumvent the censors are now under pressure. The corollary is an economic shutout of China’s market for foreign companies like Google.
But even domestic companies like Xiaomi who benefit from these walls need to be careful about how they talk about them. Xiaomi got into hot water for offering a too generous a cartographical depiction of India’s land border with China during a presentation trying to cozy up to the early-adopters of its product in New Delhi[ii].
Speaking of India and having spent the last few days in New Delhi myself, I can't help but feel a great amount of optimism for India's future. In International Affairs India is slowly taking a more and more magnanimous stand towards Pakistan, for example taking steps to ease the enemy property act of 1968 (just this month), resuming bilateral talks (as of two months ago). It will grow 6% this year. It has an educated, youthful, English-speaking workforce. India is tangibly pulsing with energy, which means with simple knowledge transfer in the years to come huge population/ over time = inevitable earnings growth. And better late than never: infrastructure spend/financing/priorities are finally starting to come together.
Similarly, we could talk about the considerable wealth that Chinese companies have amassed, we could talk about the surge in number of scientific articles Chinese scientists have published, we could talk about the real innovation Chinese companies have made just in the last five or six years, whether in design or in delivery of services[iii]. To me, what makes China distinctive is China believes it should be great. And Xi embodies this idea. Whereas, Indians balk at the idea they are ready for the "high table," Chinese unhesitatingly believe themselves to be ready. Indians were leaders in the Non-Aligned Movement, they were pioneers in the ethical-moral architecture of concepts such as non-interference and the like. But you can't avoid the feeling Indians question the premise of the question "do you wish to be great?" Indians seem to shrink at the question: "do you consider yourself to be a peer with China?" You can't help but imagine an Indian retorting with: "why should we be great?" or "how do you define great?" or "whose greatness?" or wiser still "what is greatness?"
I don't believe Chinese are self-reflective on this question of greatness as I suspect Indians are. I believe Chinese believe they should be great, full stop, and that it is simply the natural order of things for those who are great to be leaders, and to ultimately be peerless.
I don't think Indians think that way.
[i] Stutz, Howard. "Macau Casinos Start 2015 with Another Revenue Dip." Las Vegas Review-Journal, 02 Feb. 2015. Web. 02 Feb. 2015. [ii] "Xiaomi's Barra Gets Snared in Border Dispute With India Map Flub."Bloomberg.com. Bloomberg, 29 Jan. 2015. Web. 02 Feb. 2015. [iii] Morrison, Jessica. "China Becomes World’s Third-largest Producer of Research Articles." Nature.com. Nature Publishing Group, 6 Feb. 2014. Web. 03 Feb. 2015.