[Column] China and India compete on freedoms

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[Column] China and India compete on freedoms

Kang Hye-ryeon

The author is an emeritus professor of business administration at Ewha Womans University.

The term Chindia was first used by The Economist in 2005 in a forecast for the global economy. The word was coined with the expectation that China and India out of the four BRIC countries, including Brazil and Russia, would lead the global economy in the 21st century thanks to their fast growth at the time. Since then, renowned economic institutions came up with predictions that the two countries will compete with the United States beyond the UK, Germany and Japan. At that time, many experts forecast India’s supremacy over China given its wide use of English, its IT manpower and a society more internationalized than China.

But the scorecard over the past decade showed that India could not be a rival to China. That was a result of the West’s generous assistance to Beijing, which supported reform and opening at that time, the massive inflow of high technology from the return of Chinese students who studied in North America and Europe, and China’s cheap domestic labor. A planned economy orchestrated by the Communist regime and a campaign to maximize speed and productivity based on uninterrupted governance certainly played a big part in China’s dramatic transition. We saw such developments before the breakout of Covid-19 in China.

But China’s remarkable growth into a G2 country thanks to strong state control has started to show signs of decline. Beijing boasted of its amazing growth based on statistics, but its political and social systems based on repression show the limits to such growth. Public rage against the government’s draconian regulations on their liberty to maintain its Zero-Covid policy led thousands of Chinese people to take to streets to protest with blank sheets of paper in their hands. The blank paper protests explicitly show the level of government control and oversight on the lives of ordinary citizens.

Under a dictatorship led by the Communist Party of China (CPC), opening, reform and entrepreneurship can hardly blossom, as seen in the case of Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, who paid a dear price for speaking up against the outmoded Chinese system. He disappeared from public after criticizing Beijing’s regulations on fintech businesses. Ma was the primary target for Chinese leaders who put more pressure on Big Tech companies when their influence in China grew too strong. After a highly-anticipated initial public offering (IPO) by Ant Group, a fintech affiliate of Alibaba, on the Hong Kong stock exchange was cancelled by Chinese authorities, Alibaba became a target for regulation by Beijing on a crusade to achieve a society with no monopolies and allegedly to protect personal information.

In 2006, when the contest between China and India had just started, CNN broadcast a special feature on why India was set to surpass China. In the program, CNN analyzed that India, a democratic state with a rational frame of checks and balances, had advantages over China, a country with sclerotic socialist systems, over the long haul. Such an assessment is drawing attention again after 10 years.

While China is struggling economically, India is making a great leap. While stock prices in all major economies nosedived, India showed a 7.7 percent increase in stock market returns. The GDP of India, a former British colony, already started surpassing that of Britain earlier this year. The country is expected to emerge as the third largest economy in a few years after surpassing Japan and Germany.

Since its founding in 1947, India adopted the British parliamentary system and upheld democracy through direct elections to change its governing power. The reason for such high expectations for India’s potential despite its wide wealth disparities and poor social infrastructure is the hope for sustainable development of the country from promoting freedom and creativity through its multi-party system compared to the rigid one-party rule in China.

What we must take notice from the ongoing race between China and India is that citizens’ freedom and a boosting of their problem-solving ability despite fierce individual competitions and social restrictions are a critical factor to determine the potential growth of a country. But Korea seems to be going in the opposite direction. Politicians are blocking the freedom of employees to work for longer than the 52-hour workweek; the freedom for non-unionized members not to participate in illegal strikes; and the freedom for students and parents to refuse a teachers’ union steadfastly adhering to a certain ideology in educating their students. Korea’s future lies in ensuring such freedoms for our citizens. We should be trying to be more like India, not China.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
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