Joseph S. Nye Jr.
Courtesy: Shizuoka Shimbun

The rise of China is bringing Japan and India closer together. With a population of 1.2 billion people, India is likely to surpass China by 2025. But population alone is not an index of power unless those human resources are developed — and India has lagged seriously behind China in terms of literacy and economic growth rates. India needs a high rate of economic growth to accommodate the million people who enter the work force each month.

After independence in 1947, India followed an inward-looking planning system that produced low growth. After market-oriented reforms in the early 1990s, the pattern changed and growth rates rose to over 7 percent. Higher projections of double digits failed to materialize, however, and before the 2014 elections, growth had slumped to 5 percent. The new prime minister, Narendra Modi, has now reversed the slump.

Nonetheless, India remains very much an underdeveloped country with around a third of the people living in conditions of acute poverty. India’s GDP is a little over a third of China’s and India’s per capita income of $2,900 (in purchasing power parity) is half of China’s. Even more striking, while 95 percent of the Chinese population is literate, the number for India is only 63 percent. It is even lower for girls and women. A symptom of this is India’s poor performance in international comparisons of universities with none ranked in the top 100. India’s high tech exports are only 5 percent of its total exports compared to 30 percent for China. India is unlikely to develop the power resources to become a challenger to China any time soon, but if it coordinates with Japan, China will have to pay attention.

Alternatively, some people talk of a Sino-Indian coalition. Both are members of the BRICS organization, and trade between the two countries is growing rapidly. However, the likelihood that such a coalition would become a serious alliance is small. Just as there is lingering suspicion in the Sino-Russian relationship, so is there a similar rivalry between India and China. While the two countries signed agreements in 1993 and 1996 promising peaceful settlements of the border dispute that led them to war in 1962, the border dispute became controversial again after Chinese actions in 2009. And, when President Xi Jinping visited India last year, a movement of Chinese troops on the border cast a shadow over the visit. While Indian officials are often discreet in public about relations with China, their security concerns remain intense in private. Rather than becoming an ally, India is more likely to become part of the group of Asian nations that will tend to balance China. That is why one should expect India to continue to strengthen its diplomatic relations with Japan.

Joseph S. Nye Jr. is a professor at Harvard University and author of the new book, “Is the American Century Over?”


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