Is the White House embracing China at India's expense?
Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh wrapped up his U.S. visit with a state dinner at the White House Tuesday night, a powerful reminder of why the United States should pay at least as much -- if not more -- attention to India than China as a future trading partner.
President Obama ruffled some feathers earlier this month in India as he visited China. His praise of China was seen by some to come at the expense of India, and that's a shame, because India is much more of a kindred spirit to the United States.
India: Representative democracy, with a government determined by free elections.
China: Communist state, with government determined by party bosses.
India: Regulated free-market.
China: Authoritarian capitalism run by centralized party control.
Which sounds more like the United States?
Singh's re-election to prime minister in May was a critical one because it marginalized India's communist politicians, who had held back Singh's free-market reforms. Now, with communists losing half of their seats in parliament in the May election, Singh can move forward unfettered.
India is the world's largest democracy, with 700 million voters. It is also has the second-largest population, with 1.1 billion, a staggering 30 percent of whom are under 15 years of age. Those are terrific demographics for a free-market economy trying to grow.
Right now, China is the big dog, a buyer of U.S. imports and maker of things U.S. consumers want to buy. But if there's any lesson the 20th century taught us about communist governments, generally they don't last: the Soviet Union and all its satellite states are a good example. Unless you are an isolated nation and have morphed revolutionary communism into a cult-of-personality authoritarianism (Cuba) or you've isolated yourself from the global community (Sudan), communism is not a sustainable political system. People want freedom, which they have in India.
Yet even Singh's visit to the United States has prompted China to seemingly forget all the goodwill from Obama's visit earlier this month: "News of the resurgence in Indo-US goodwill and the glitzy White House state dinner came on the day the U.S. government set anti-dumping duties on tubular goods imports from China, accentuating trade friction between China and the U.S. -- which Obama and [Chinese president] Hu had pledged to avoid last week," wrote India-based DNA news agency.
The United States should not take India's friendliness for granted just because both nations are free-market democracies. Obama's perceived kow-towing to the Chinese prompted this stinging editorial column in the Deccan Chronicle, a large Indian paper:
"In the end, all America can think of is its own national interest. India’s interests be damned. Perhaps it is the price India has to pay for letting the Americans decide our security policy in general and our Pakistan policy in particular over the last decade.
And to think that our Prime Minister will be skipping the Winter Session of Parliament to go to meet this man who cares two hoots for India’s self-respect and security."
Right now there are tensions between the United States and India over trade. The U.S. government is blaming India for holding up a multi-national trade agreement, but India argues the United States is to blame, as well.
The White House could have extended a courtesy to influential Indian economist Jagdish Bhagwati, currently a Columbia University professor, who did not get an invitation to the state dinner or any functions in Washington during Singh's visit.
Bhagwati, who has been a friend of this blog, is known by many as the father of India's modern economy and has been friends with Singh since the two were undergrads together at Cambridge. He could be a valuable ally for the United States, if it seeks to improve its trade relations with the Indian Tiger.
-- Frank Ahrens
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November 25, 2009; 5:04 PM ET
Categories: The Ticker | Tags: India, Manmohan Singh, Obama, china, trade
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