September 13, 2005

Asia Times Letters


I am rather disturbed by certain fundamental errors – both in content [and] in methodology – in Ramtanu Maitra's article China's shadow over India's US lobby [Sep 13]. First, he conveniently mentions that China is the world's second-largest economy – even larger than Japan – but fails to point out that those calculations are based on purchasing power parity (PPP) terms. In real terms, China is the world's seventh-largest economy, with Japan nearly three times as large. This tends to confuse the non-economic-minded reader, just as the statement "India is a larger economy than Germany" would (true in PPP terms). Second, while correctly mentioning that India receives very little foreign direct investment, it is curious how the author forgets to point out the role of foreign institutional investors in the Indian economy. By some estimates, the Bombay Stock Exchange holds around [US]$50 billion of FII. Third, he has made a plain judgmental error when he argues that foreign perception of Indian development is marred by the visible poverty in Indian towns and villages. Pick up any reputable international newspaper – The Economist, Wall Street Journal or anything else – it is positive press all the way. Sometimes it is even possible to argue that India is getting more good press than it deserves.

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  1. Mathew Mannion

    That may be true, but I don't read The Economist or the Wall Street Journal personally, and if asked whether Indian towns and villages are rife with poverty, I would obviously say that of course that is true, just as the same is true of Chinese towns and villages

    13 Sep 2005, 14:18

  2. Yes, but would your perception be better than it was, say, 10 years ago? In the 1980s, a larger proportion of people would certainly associate poverty and misery with these countries, far greater than what people today would.

    13 Sep 2005, 15:08

  3. Mathew Mannion

    I didn't have a perception 10 years ago, I was a blissfully ignorant 11 year old… Although I don't think there's been any evidence that things have changed in the towns and villages in east Asia to make me think that things have changed in the slightest; at least not in the national press or features that are in the media.

    13 Sep 2005, 15:42

  4. I think you've missed a huge development in the Western media then– headlines such as "India's Shining" or "Hope, at Last for India" in prominent publications signal a marked change in the perception of the global media towards India. This is not all hot air– since the agenda for the meetings between Indian and Western leaders are also markedly different– 10 years ago it was usually about poverty removal, aid and population control– now it is trade deals, investment and defence relations.

    You mention that you don't think that poverty per se has been much affected in towns and villages in East and South Asia– well leaving aside the statistical evidence, visible change is there as well with better infrastructure, public services and reduced poverty. I lived in India 10 years ago, and now I am in India as well– I can testify to this change.

    Yes, there's a lot more to be done, but progress has been there.

    13 Sep 2005, 16:03

  5. Mathew Mannion

    It wasn't really my point though – of course as someone who has lived in India for such a long time I would assume that you pay a hell of a lot more attention to a prominent global headline than the next person, but you can't deny that the number of people in, say, the UK who read The Wall Street Journal or The Economist is so tiny that it doesn't really matter, and national media will very rarely bring up a headline or story featuring India in a positive light from my experience.

    13 Sep 2005, 16:16

  6. There was a programme in the BBC earlier this summer on the changing face of China under economic reform– and it was a month long series of one–hour documentaries on BBC1 about the country. Next month BBC World is running a programme called "Eye on India" which will do the same thing by the sound of it. There have been numerous documentaries and programmes about India and its rising stature in the last 4 years, both in the UK as well as the US, among others.

    13 Sep 2005, 20:34

  7. Mathew Mannion

    BBC World isn't in the UK, nor did I see the documentaries on BBC 1, and I very much doubt that more than 1–2% of people DID see the documentaries – my point is that the message is simply not getting across, so you can't use the argument of the media portraying a good message as affecting people's opinions because the message simply isn't getting through and I doubt it will get through for a long time.

    14 Sep 2005, 01:05

  8. There have been editorials in newspapers and other programmes apart from the ones I mentioned of course. The point is that the change of perception is very real, and it is also evident in the casual conversations on this topic I've had in Coventry, Essex and other parts of the UK and also on a recent trip to New York and Washington. People are listening, and they acknowledge that India is moving forward. Are you sure your pessimistic outlook isn't clouding your judgement?

    14 Sep 2005, 04:39

  9. Mathew Mannion

    Pessimistic outlook? I really don't think you're understanding my point at all. My judgement is based simply on the fact that my perception of India is that there is massive poverty in the towns and villages, and this was backed up by what I saw in China – which arguably gets a lot more press as a country moving forward economically than India.

    14 Sep 2005, 12:45

  10. Well there is a saying that goes– Where you stand determines what you see. Same could be applied to both of us– I would argue that the en masse perception is changing, while you think to the contrary. I ask– have you actually been to places like Shanghai, Gunagzhou, Tinjin, Beijing, Nanjing, Dalian, Chengdou or any other urban part of China? You would note improvements there no doubt. Even the rural areas have been improved vis–a–vis what they were 20 years ago, as the seemingly innumerable articles and papers in the media and academia about China suggest.

    About India, on a recent trip to a conference in Washington, a speaker began with a joke. In 1970 when an American child would not finish his meal, his mother said– "Finish your food. People in India are dying without it." The same child tells his son in 2005 when he doesn't do his homework– "Finish your homework, son, or an Indian will take your job away."

    You draw your conclusions.

    14 Sep 2005, 14:52

  11. Mathew Mannion

    I've been to Beijing, Chongqing, Luoyang and Jinan, and obviously I've seen the "invasion" of capitalist society in these places, but I've also seen such incredibly poor people that it's hard not to have this ingrained on my soul itself. Obviously, you know more about the changes in India than me, and probably about the changes in China as well, but this has never been my point - my point is simply that my perception has not changed because I haven't been exposed to such media, and I can't be the only one.

    14 Sep 2005, 15:07

  12. The point I'm trying to make lies in your statement itself. You saw "invasion of capitalist society"– by that I presume you mean you saw a considerable number of newly affluent middle and rich classes of people. But then you "also saw incredibly poor people". Had you gone to China or India 20–30 years ago, these very few rich, especially the richer middle classes, would be almost absent.

    Now, the problem is that you've never had the earlier perception and therefore cannot compare the two. But analysts in the media have, and that is why the good press these countries are getting.

    14 Sep 2005, 15:40

  13. Mathew Mannion

    Actually, from what I saw, China doesn't have a middle class in the slightest – just the very rich and the very, very poor. But of course, you are right when you say that I've never had the earlier perception

    14 Sep 2005, 15:45

  14. Yes precisely, and that is why I initially said that these countries "are perhaps getting more good press than they deserve". China's inequality problem is not as well addressed in the Western media as its 9% plus growth is.

    On a slightly unrelated point, this is where India stands out. You will see some very poor, some lower middle classes, some newly affluent middle classes, some traditionally well–off middle classes, some newly rich, some traditionally rich. It is a far more variety of classes vis–a–vis China. This I attribute to our free system which results in a "natural" growth trajectory.

    14 Sep 2005, 16:02

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