India’s experiment

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India’s experiment

In the 1980s, just a generation ago, no one would have imagined that China would challenge the largest economy in the world in the early 21st century. No one could have dreamed that the Soviet Union would dissolve and Russia would suffer the shrunken fate of today. And no one would have dared to imagine that the superpower United States would face the kind of challenges at home and abroad that it does today. We realize once again that the rise and fall of a country and its people and the concurrent changes in world history cannot be easily predicted.

In the era of imperialism, Koreans experienced the humiliation of colonization by Japan. After its liberation, it suffered the painful ordeals of war and national division as a result of the Cold War. It has become commonplace for Koreans to name the United States, Russia, China and Japan as the four major superpowers. We have paid relatively little attention to India, a newly rising superpower.

It appears that we have forgotten the Venerable Hyecho of Silla, who traveled to a number of countries in southwest Asia - including India 1,300 years ago - and wrote a memoir of the pilgrimage to the five kingdoms of India. Before it is too late, we must remind our people how large India is.

The United Nations has predicted that India will have the largest population in 2028, surpassing that of China. India’s population capable of economic production will increase from 920 million in 2020 to 1.02 billion in 2030. A World Bank report in April showed that India has become the third-largest economic power after the United States and China based on Purchasing Power Parity, accounting for 6.4 percent of the world’s gross domestic product.

India is expected to rise as a manufacturing country and it is also becoming an advanced country in the field of cutting-edge science. On Sept. 5, India successfully launched an advanced communication satellite using a Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle developed with its own technologies. On Sept. 24, India’s exploration spacecraft, Mangalyaan, managed to enter the orbit of Mars, news reports said. The military power of India, a nuclear-armed country, has also reached a significant level.

Despite these dramatic signals of India’s rise as a superpower, the actual feasibility of India taking a major role on the world stage depends upon political conditions at home and other factors abroad. International affairs’ unpredictable development is always important. But it’s also necessary for the country to have a leader who can take initiatives of an historic sort. The people’s unified efforts are also necessary to decide a country’s fate. That is why we are paying special attention to the newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who won the general election in May.

At the 13th Korea-India Forum in Seoul earlier this month, Prof. H.K. Singh, who served as India’s ambassador to Japan, properly summarized the political strengths of Modi. According to him, Modi presented the twin goals of change and reform and promised that his government will focus on economic development in order to build a society in which everyone can live in prosperity, bridging the gaps of castes, ideologies, religions and ethnicities.

With a pledge to build a new middle class focused on the youth rather than promoting the progressive ideology of India’s socialist policies of the past, Modi will build on his track record as chief minister of Gujarat state, Singh said, where he achieved an average of 9.8 percent growth during his 10-year term. Modi is inspiring people about India’s potential for the future, particularly in terms of economic growth.

Since he served as chief minister of Gujarat, the home of India’s textile industry, Modi has expressed particular interest in the progress of Korea’s industrialization and democratization. Based on his leadership, Korea and India must aggressively reinforce their cooperation, the forum said.

Many possible ways to cooperate were presented at the forum in the defense, nuclear energy and space industry, including information and communications as well as cooperation between India’s Bollywood film industry and the so-called Korean Wave of cultural exports such as K-pop.

Experts also strongly recommended that the two countries upgrade their aviation and visa agreements as well as the bilateral Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement.

India, the rising superpower of the 21st century, has operated a parliamentary democracy for all but 19 months of its decades as an independent nation, becoming a miracle of democracy. In its last elections, there were 814.5 million voters.

The most populous democracy in the world is still trying to improve the welfare of the people through continuous rapid growth. It has stayed true to the nonaligned movement, steering clear of the superpowers.

The experience of this pacifist superpower is in line with Korea’s goals. That is the biggest reason we await a visit by Prime Minister Modi, following President Park Geun-hye’s visit to India in January.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

JoongAng Ilbo, Page 31, Nov. 24

*The author is a former prime minister and adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Hong-koo

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