World’s New Indispensable Powers?


Reviewed by Wajahat Qazi

In a world defined by fluidity, flux and uncertainty, where there is no dearth of Cassandras with their doom laden scenarios and even gloomy prescriptions to deal with these, or wildly optimistic aficionados  offering rose colored scenarios, one analyst and writer, offers a sober and abstemious analysis and prescription for a better world. The writer, Anja Manuel, formerly with the State Department, in her brilliant and assiduously researched book, “This Brave New World: India , China, and the United States”, while cautioning against extremes suggests moderation in not only dealing with the contemporary world and the challenges it is constantly throwing up but also crafting a better future for the world. A qualifying or even clarifying remark is in order here: Anja Manuel is neither a sentimental humanist nor a starry eyed idealist; she is what I would call “idealist realist”. (More academically oriented may call her  and label her work as neoliberal in the international relations sense of the term).Manuel’s work is testimony to the idea that realism and idealism need not be at cross purposes or diametrically opposed to each other).


The central argument or core idea of Manuel’s thesis appears to be that in a world defined by both power transition and diffusion, where China and India are rising-albeit in a  different institutional format and grid than the past and the rise of powers historically- it makes eminent sense and is prudent to devise mechanisms for co-operation than  pure competition. In this schemata, Manuel’s counsels the United States to assist in the rise of the two Asian giants.  From an academic perspective, what Manuel’s is suggesting is benign or benevolent hegemony by the United States and “managing” or assisting the rise of both India and China. This counsel is a sharp contrapuntal to theories or policy prescriptions that posit a conflictual dynamic with different policy and strategic implications for the United States.


Laced with analogies, parallels and lucid real world vignettes which testify to the painstaking field work that Manuel has done, the book begins by drawing a snapshot view of dinners hosted in the United States for the Chinese and Indian heads of state.  While the audience at the Chinese premier, Xi Jing Ping’s address is polite but the overall atmosphere is not defined by enthusiasm; there is a certain fraughtness in it. By contrast, the atmosphere at the dinner hosted for the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi is informal and party like. The inference and implications  that Manuel draws for her readers from these interactions is while “ the United States respects China and commercial bind the two nations but difficult geopolitics and bilateral disagreements lurk beneath the surface”. But in terms of India, “ relations are more affable and comfortable. The assumption is that India and the United States share values, and already have strong partnership. Yet India’s size and future power is underestimated”.


Drawing attention to what Manuel calls the “ axial power shift from the West to China and India” and the implications  thereof, Manuel draws two scenarios- one in the nature of a Cold War between China and the Rest defined by adversarialism and conflict; the other scenario posits a cooperative dynamic wherein the gains from cooperation between the world powers- established and rising –leads to a more peaceful, prosperous world.  Manuel , while qualifying and counseling against straight line predictions and variables that are outside the United States’ control suggests that , “ as the largest power, the United States has a special obligation to seek the right trajectory by getting its relations with both Asian giants exactly right” The key and operative word here is both.


Manuel, dwelling on the respective historical experiences, memories and trajectories of China and India- colonialism and reactions of the two thereof-holds that these are key to understanding the two countries. While the assimilative dynamic and response was more significant in India, the Chinese reaction was the opposite; the country turned inward and became isolationist. The denouement of the colonial experience(s) have a bearing on the present: it is reflected in China’s drive to “recover its Great Power status” but India, according to Manuel , “ is now more at peace with its past”.


Culturally, the two countries  are also different. In China, Manuel posits,  the Confucian ingress, despite Mao Tse Tung’s onslaught against it defines China and is making a comeback because the Confucian philosophy’s stress on order and stability , is in accord with the Communist Party of China.  Indians , on the other hand,  according to Manuel “ are still deeply steeped in their religion(Hinduism)”.The author then alludes to what may be accurately called “ Indo Islam” and posits that it is more moderate than in Persian Gulf states or Pakistan. All this together with the fact that Muslims are not a majority anywhere in India makes co-existence work in India. (The exception that Manuel ignores is Kashmir).


In terms of the modern history of the two nations, China, according to Manuel, is defined by what she calls the “mammoth Civil War between the nationalists and Japan’s invasion of the country”.  The central figure of the Civil War was Mao Tse Tung who, according to Manuel, “ many well educated Chinese see as a deeply flawed figure who nonetheless achieved some great things”. The central figure in, what Manuel’s calls, India’s stormy recent history was Mahatma Gandhi. Key to the historical experiences and the figures that shaped China and India ,  as well as their divergent political and economic systems,according to Manuel, “ determine much of their behavior today”.“Appreciating the internal political constraints that make China difficult to understand and  that  hamper India’s ability to be more assertive internationally  is key to working effectively towards good relations with India and China”, asserts Manuel.


In China, “the Communist Party(CCP) , according to Manuel, supervises all aspects of ideology and gives broad policy direction to the government bureaucracy and the Army”.  The party, in essence, dominates. However, India, following the British model  created a parliamentary democracy where Parliament is divided into a lower house of elected legislators( Lok Sabha) and an upper House, the Rajya Sabha, where member are elected by state legislatures. 


“India’s Constitution, unlike in China, where provincial officials report directly to the Communist Party, reserves important powers-administration of justice, public health and sanitation, education and distribution of electricity and other functions. And key policies such as economic and social planning are shared responsibilities of the centre and states”, asserts Manuel. As a result, some states like Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, have done very well. India then, according to Manuel,” is a patchwork of economic and policy contradictions”.


China and India then are not, Manuel posits, monoliths. The distinguished author’s key finding here is that , “ these systems will impact how fast each country can reform internally and how it will act on the world stage. China’s ‘fragmented authoritarianism’ makes internal reform easier than India’s raucous and decentralized democracy”.


Manuel directs attention to the massive 20th century economic transformations of both India and China to glean an understanding of  the two countries’ future. However, Manuel asserts that, with the passage of time, the limits of the Chinese model- “Socialism with Chinese characteristics” is becoming apparent. Overcapacity, massive local debt, income inequality, a rapidly ageing population and environmental degradation , are some of the major factors negatively affecting growth, according to Manuel. While the same does not hold true for India but the country’s incomplete reform process has, according to Manuel, “produced a hybrid economy and thereby lopsided results”.  India’s economic reforms spurred by the 1991 balance of payments crisis, gave short shrift to what was derogatorily termed as the “ Hindu Rate of Growth”- the result of autarky and import substitution and protection of local industry through high tariffs among other things- made the country grow as much as it had during the past forty years, according to Manuel. “ From 1991 to 2011, India’s GDP quadrupled and exports surged fourteen fold. The opening  also jumpstarted India’s technology boom”, asserts Manuel. However, after a decade of what may be called “policy paralysis”, reforms have stalled. “A combination of complex domestic politics and populism explains this failure”, asserts Manuel.

Manuel then goes on to posit that both Chinese and Indian economic growth is entirely in the United States’ own interest.  Manuel goes onto state that , “an expanding global economy would need two ofb its largest dynamic engines to prosper. Chinese and Indian growth means that American companies will be able to export more , which supports jobs in the United States”. More importantly perhaps, Manuel goes onto infer and then posit what is called the “complex interdependence paradigm from increased economic co-operation: “ the increasing economic ties between China, India and the United States also help raise the cost of potential military conflict and so more the three giants interact economically, the better”.


Manuel then goes on to analyze the vitals of both China and India and helps readers gain a  handle and a perspective on the nature of structural problems each nation is facing, the differences in these and then posits solutions for these countries and a helping hand by the West- especially the United States. Manuel, starting with poignant vignettes to the illustrate the nature of the problem(s) and their poignancy, asserts that, “  income inequality is a serious concern in both India and China but the nature and form of this poverty is different in China and India. “China’s manufacturing boom has, according to Manuel, raised the incomes of millions of former peasants but a manufacturing revolution has so far skipped India, so 93% of India’s work force, is in the informal sector”. Attributing poverty in India to the caste system, Manuel asserts that , “ inspite of well meaning efforts to end the caste system, has kept some groups poor for generations and it persists into the 21st century”. Overlaying this social structure is  India’s modest public social spending- only between 3 and 4% of GDP, which Manuel contrasts with China’s 7%.  India’s failure to help its poorest, according to Manuel , is largely a failure of governance.


“China’s history of poverty, according to Manuel, is different. While there are no castes in China, inequality  is heavily reinforced by  the system of hukou, or household registration which assigns people to the rural or urban at birth and thus intentionally makes migrating to the cities very difficult”. On these dimensions and indicators, Manuel suggests that that “ the United States and Europe should care about these domestic concerns in the world’s rising giants”. The reasons pertain to the possibility that, “ poverty and perceived unfairness create discontent and discontent can breed internal turmoil, extreme nationalism or both” Manuel qualifies this plea for assistance by stating that, “ China and India will have to do a almost all the heavy on this issue without outside help by making good decisions about how to allocate their own resources”.  The distinguished author then adds that, “ more trade, ethical corporate practices and dedicated non profit work can China and India build a prosperous society for all its citizens and for everyone’s benefit”.


However,  it is the staggering scale and scope of corruption that plagues both India and China that is a more intractable problem”, according to Manuel. While the character of corruption in either country is different, Manuel holds that, “it functions as a substantial tax on their economies , draining funds from public services”. Both countries should then make clean government a priority, states Manuel. China’s approach , given the nature of its polity, in dealing with corruption is top down and “ its crack down has benefited from the remarkable efficiency and concerted power that the Party can bring to bear”.  “In India, however, the situation, is however, according to Manuel reverse, with forceful grass roots leaders  waging a ground up battle”. Both  countries, states Manuel,  “Will have to make more comprehensive reforms[…] because corruption has significant negative effects on investment, entrepreneurship and government efficiency, and takes points off economic growth”.


Another theme that has a searing resonance on both India and China is demographics.  China, in this schemata , is growing older and India younger. Both present challenges to either country. India’s demographic dividend is hamstrung by its poor education system and an inability to create jobs for its young.. In terms of China,  Manuel states that , “without massive investment  the tidal wave of elderly Chinese who will retire in the next few decades will bring the country’s fledgling pension system to its knees”. In these domains, Manuel suggests that, “ the United States  should promote collaboration on education as one way to as one way to expand the country’s strategic collaboration with India”. This is America’s interest as ,” more educated , wealthy generation of Indians will buy American products thus expanding its economy”. For China, “ the United States can help companies gain market access to the pensions and attendant opportunities; the United States can help the Chinese gain the skills and technical know how to meet its retirement challenge”.


Gender disparities are another area that plague both China  and India in different permutations and combinations.  According to Manuel, overall, almost 70% of Chinese women are employed outside the home, compared to 25 % of Indian women”. “ In India, according to Manuel, traditional values have often held women back- both at work and home. And domestic violence and rape are just some of the problems that India’s women face”. In China, the Communists were less patriarchal  Manuel asserts that with China’s recent swing to market capitalism, the communist insistence on gender equality is less prominent and patriarchy is creeping back into the system”. Here again Manuel counsels and pushes for an American role in “ helping more women on both sides of the Pacific”.


In terms of the environment, both countries are bedeviled by enormous problems. According to Manuel, “India’s and China’s galloping economic growth has left behind a filthy mess of unbreathable air, undrinkable water and carbon emissions that threaten the world”. The Chinese Government can ove quickly on these issues when there is both a top-down decision to do so and a willing local government. India’s solutions are more democratic and bottom up but also less rigorous”. It, according to Manuel, is in the United States interest to support these efforts if it wants to avoid irreversible climate change”.


Managing discontent is a challenge for both Asian giants. While abstract freedoms are not something that the Chinese would take to the streets, discontent in China takes three forms: one, from those who are left behind by China’s economic boom, two, disgruntled Chinese who feel discriminated by the Han Chinese majority and three, ‘millenial netizens who, out of recklessness ask uncomfortable questions about their authoritarian government”. According to Manuel, “ by 2030 these tensions within the system will have reached breaking point. “ In contrast to China, Manuel posits that, India’s citizens are empowered to protest openly and vent their frustration at the ballot box- it is a functioning democracy”. The Chinese, au contraire do not have such an escape valve. The Chinese government then , according to Manual, “ strives  to fix the problems its citizens are concerned about –income inequality, pollution, corruption. More ominously, the government ruthlessly preserves ‘stability’ though its vast censorship apparatus and by jailing and often brutally beating protest leaders”. Instead of taking a tougher line on China, as many suggest, Manuel counsels engagement at all levels. Insofar India is concerned, Manuel states that it is in United States’ interest to support Indian civil society”.


The political economy of both India and China is also a study in contrasts. China, according to Manuel , is the new mercantilist. “ The country , asserts Manuel, coordinated government aid, loans and FDI and to some extent trade to help its own companies and keep its economy growing. In China,  investment is part of a government encouraged industrial  strategy to secure natural resources, create opportunities for state owned enterprises as China’s internal boom slows, invests China’s massive reserves and expand its political influence all at once. Manuel cites China’s One Belt, One Road(OBOR) as an example of this. Quoting scholar Steve Levine, Manuel asserts, “that China is growing into history’s most extensive commercial empire”. India, however, has no comprehensive strategy.  Manuel implies that while self interest and influence projection lies at the heart of China’s approach, “humanitarian giving which lies at the heart of India’s cultural values”, explains India’s approach. In other words, India’s approach is altruistic. To counteract Chinese mercantilism, and create “domestic constituencies for good relations, China, the United States, and India should do their best to increase each country’s investments in and trade with, the others”.


After dwelling on the political economy of China and India and offering solutions, Manuel then takes readers around a tour of international institutions and global governance- a web of regimes and institutions with a post World War II ingress created by the West. Dwelling on what many feel has been the rather diminutive role played by international institutions, Manuel also highlights the work done by these institutions- say in opening world trade and thus allowing globalization to take hold or in peacekeeping and other allied areas. However, with the rise of India and China, the rules of the game of international political and economic life , so to speak are changing. Or, in the least, in terms of institutions which have been resistant to change and extant distribution of power, like the United States, should change.  While, as Manuel rightly states, “there is no easy, one size fits all solution”, she asserts that, “China and India are rightfully pushing us to rethink the outdated, post- World War II global order”.  Both, Manuel adds, should be welcomed as partners”.


Generally speaking, military modernization is usually the concomitant of economic growth and modernization. China and India are no exception to this. As Manuel states, “ inspite of their mostly cooperative international relations, the United States, China and India are engaged in a gradual , great power military escalation, that no one really wants”. China’s security interests and their expansion especially into the Indian Ocean and the response of India, United States and Australia, add to the poignancy of the security competition.   Elaborating further on Chinese actions and the reactions thereof which could potentially threaten the delicate politico- military balance forged after the Second World War, Manuel draws attention to the real threat: “misunderstanding and distrust on all sides will lead everyone arming to the hilt in a way that benefits no one”.  Overlaying this security competition is the gradual waning of America’s predominance in Pacific and Indian Ocean region, to paraphrase Manuel. “To manage China’s military rise then requires, instead of balancing subtle policy making from like minded countries”. While asserting that China’s rise is inevitable and that this would lead to China becoming a global military player,  Manuel suggests that , “ the United States and like minded countries should be clear in what lines must not be crossed by China, and also bats for inclusion of  China in joint military exercises  , while keeping the lines of communication as much open as possible with China”. All these recommendations should be complemented by utmost care to,“establishing procedures for managing accidents at sea” and last but not the least, find positive areas of collaboration”.


The painstaking study and field work conducted by Manuel is concluded the distinguished author by drawing a historical parallel and analogy- the rise of the United States and Germany under the British led liberal order( or empire). Manuel suggests an approach that is on contradistinction to the one that the United States employed; China should not be merely  be treated as a rival and then balanced; a more nuanced and eclectic approach should be adopted. In the words of Manuel, “ the United States should treat both China and India with the subtlety that Britain used for the upstart United States. This does not mean identical policies towards each but that [….] but that through patient, constant interaction coax both ‘adolescent’ powers to gradually accept a responsible international role”. Rooting for extended and expanded cooperation between India, China and the United States, Manuel concludes by writing that the three countries can create a positive, brave new world and by dint of recognizing and appreciating legitimate interests of all countries but at the same time drawing red lines for aggressive  behavior, all buttressed by deep cooperation , global problems affecting all can be resolved and the United States, China and India can all enjoy increased peace and prosperity.


Anja Manuel has written a wonderful, incisive and concise tome that doubles as an analysis that the general reader would be interested in but more importantly as a sober policy prescription for powers that be and allied stakeholders. The issues and themes that she dwells on an elaborates concern  all of us but have a trenchant  or searing resonance for the troika of powers that will increasingly determine the shape, form and content of world politics and international relations. Managing relations between/among this troika of powers will probably determine war and peace – regionally as well as globally. Getting the relationship is of utmost importance is the thrust and gravamen of Manuel’s thesis. Manuel has done painstaking research and complemented it by assiduous field work, sieving through cross cultural differences to arrive at a spot on diagnosis of issues and then tying the observations and analysis together in a coherent framework of analysis and even , in a brilliant way to theory as well without appearing be theoretical. All in all the book is a necessary contrapuntal and counterpoint to theories and policy paradigms based either on exuberance or even conceit. Anja Manuel has done well- in fact, exceptionally well, to produce a much needed and desired ouvre at a critical stage and direction of world politics and international relations.


Having said this, it is easy to detect the slant towards India in Manuel’s work.  Despite the vignettes and the wide exposures she has had in India, Manuel appears to project her understanding of India onto the real India. This appears to color her understanding of Centre State relations in India, India’s appreciation and alleged penchant for “ soft power”, the alleged DNA of Indian culture that makes it take recourse to aid on altruistic grounds and also the nature of Indian democracy which Manuel calls as a “ raucous democracy”.


Consider the example of Centre State relations. India is a unitary state with an imperfect federation where the Centre has often run rough shod on states. The use and abuse of Article 356 to intervene in states and even topple or dislodge their governments is a case in point. More recently, the Parliamentary elections were fought as a neo presidential campaign around the persona and personality of Narendra Modi. This may be ominous and indicative of the times to come in terms of Centre State relations in India.


If only altruism was ingrained in the DNA of India, then obviously poverty would not be as prevalent and pervasive as it is in India; more over this alleged altruism stands in contradistinction to the caste system. In terms of soft power, it is now increasingly believed in India that it is a focus on “ hard power” that will determine whether the country will be treated seriously as a player in international politics and relations.


Above all, it is Manuel’s projection of quasi similarities between American and Indian democracies that is contentious. While no democracy is not perfect, but India given the various contradictions, the preference of patronage over policy and patronage politics , the dichotomies and other inconsistencies could be called an “ incomplete democracy”. The Naxal inspired violence in many districts of India may, among other things, constitute an example of this incomplete democracy. This “incompleteness” affects policy making- conception, design and implementation in India.


These criticisms, however, are not meant to detract from the thrust and nature of the book. It, to repeat, is a sober, prescriptive guide to both policy makers and powers that be to create and craft a world that is peaceful and prosperous and where peace and prosperity given the size, power and scope of the three major and large countries-India, China and the United States will be contingent on the direction, thrust and nature of their policies and strategies. Anja Manuel has done a wonderful job and she deserves accolades for this through a wide readership of her wonderful and incisive book.


This Brave New World: India, China and the United States
Anja Manuel Simon & Schuster|   368 pages |  ISBN 9781501121999 |  May 2016

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