News of India’s recent cyber security deal with the U.S. raises questions about American strategy in Asia. The deal, largely seen as a counter to China’s known hacking strategy, allies the U.S. with India against China and its hackers. However, despite this tacit partnership, India may prove to be an even larger problem for the U.S. in the future than China.
As a democratic government, India is in a much better position than China to play a big part in world politics and trade. Both domestically and internationally, India has advantage compared to China. Problems facing both countries, including corruption, inequality, and infrastructural issues are more easily addressed in a democratic society than one that silences the press and censors its information extensively. According to Reporters Without Borders, India’s press freedom ranks at 122. While not a great showing, it is still leagues above China’s rank: 171. Indian media has already had success pointing out corruption and enforcing accountability among its politicians. China, likes to make its political dissidents “disappear.”
Moreover, as a democratic government, India can fully embrace capitalism without any of the ideological conflicts faced by the Chinese. As such, India is in a better position to both fix its issues while moving forward in the international arena that idealizes democracy.
Many cite China’s massive population as an indication of its impending rise. But this statistic is actually a disadvantage for China when compared with India. Both populations number over a billion people, but India’s is a youthful population whereas China’s is growing dangerously old: Presently, 160 million Chinese are over age 60 and another 160 million have only one child; within a generation, China will have an aged population that will puts strains on the country both politically and economically.
While China has the lead economically now, it will not be long before India catches up and possibly surpasses the Chinese. India has an economy that is already growing faster than China’s, with growth estimated at 10.4%. India is also better equipped to handle this growth: Whereas China needs to make massive changes to support continued growth, India is in a position to continue growing for a decade without any major changes. Worse, the money for such changes, despite China’s massive reserve wealth, could disappear if China’s economy bubble bursts and it is forced to transition to a slower growing economy.
Above all, India’s greatest advantage is the fact that it is not seen as a threat to the U.S. China’s recent maneuvering in the South China Seas are indicative of greater hegemonic and territorial expansions —a thought that makes Americans uneasy. With China’s systematic hacking of U.S. networks recently brought to light, the Chinese have been painted squarely as the biggest threat to U.S. global power, even though in reality, China is merely posturing in the South China Seas, as the eastern giant knows it need the support of the American market and its consumers to buy its goods in order to sustain its economy.
Meanwhile, Washington increasingly views India as a counterweight to China, with plans for it to be a close ally as strategic interests between the two generally aligns. This means greater economic, military, and political cooperation between the U.S. and India. It also means some of the things that China is criticized for such as devaluing currency, human rights abuses, and pollution, will be given a free pass of sorts with regards to India. Unfortunately, in failing to see India for true competitor it is, the US is subsidizing the rise of its greatest future threat.
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