India and China have agreed to end a two-month long military standoff in the Doklam border region following the withdrawal of Indian troops from territory claimed by China. Although they have a longstanding history of border conflicts, current tensions take place in the context of India’s growing ties with the United States and the U.S. military “pivot” to China.
Subordinate alliance with U.S. imperialism
Following India’s neoliberal reforms, beginning in 1991, U.S.-India relations have steadily grown closer. Recently, U.S. investment in India has risen 500 percent, coinciding with growing military collaboration. Since 2008, cumulative defense trade has increased from US$11 billion to US$15 billion, the countries have designated each other “Major Defense Partners,” and India has agreed to allow the U.S. to use India’s military bases for repair and resupply.
India has increasingly aligned itself with U.S. imperialism. Most significantly, supporting the U.S. strategy against China, which seeks to maintain U.S. global hegemony. This includes India’s siding with the U.S. on the South China Sea dispute, supporting U.S. aggression against the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, and opposing China’s Belt and Road Initiative. During the recent Doklam conflict with China, U.S.-India ties strengthened as they established a new security dialogue which will include their respective defense secretaries and ministers.
However, while this partnership deepens, India’s capitalist development at home produces destitution for the majority. Neoliberalism and close ties with the U.S. have exclusively benefited India’s ruling class, now holding 58 percent of the country’s wealth, and resulted in increasing inequality and impoverishment for working and oppressed peoples. Marxist economist Prabhat Patnaik has demonstrated that India’s per capita food consumption is decreasing and absolute poverty is rising. India’s people require a new way forward, as the current capitalist, U.S.-friendly path does not meet their needs.
China as an alternative
In 2004, Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro declared that “China has become objectively the most promising hope and best example for all Third World countries.” Although portrayed as a “rival” by ruling class elites, India’s working and oppressed peoples do not benefit from the anti-China orientation. Rather, learning from China’s experiences and developing positive relations can support their struggle forward.
Having both been oppressed by the West for centuries, India and China have faced similar challenges of pursuing national development and addressing the needs of immense populations. However, they have followed opposite paths: capitalism and socialism, respectively. By comparing how the two countries have responded to these challenges, insight can be gained about how the Indian people can advance their own interests.
Poverty and exploitation
Capitalist India is home to the world’s largest poverty-stricken population: 268 million, or 21.2 percent, live on less than US$1.90 per day, and 732 million, or 58 percent live on less than US$3.10 per day. Private land ownership and corporate predation have led to 300,000 farmer suicides since 1995. The unemployment rate grew from 6.8 percent in 2001 to 9.6 percent in 2011, and permanent jobs are giving way to temporary work. This has adversely affected workers’ wages and social security, leading to India’s central trade unions calling an indefinite general strike earlier in the year.
Conversely, in China living conditions are consistently improving. In the past four decades alone, China has lifted over 800 million people out of poverty, more than the rest of the world combined, as the Chinese Communist Party works to eradicate poverty by 2020. Chinese wage growth is soaring, with hourly manufacturing wages rising 12 percent per year since 2001. Across China’s labor force as a whole, hourly wages now exceed every major Latin American state except for Chile, and are approximately 70 percent of levels in weaker euro zone countries.
Additionally, income inequality, which is rising globally, has been steadily decreasing in China since 2010. A 2013 Pew Research Center survey supports these findings, reporting that 85 percent of China’s population was satisfied with the direction of their economy, and 82 percent believed their children would be better off than they were, both figures being the highest in the world.
Oppression and discrimination
Indian society is branded by the oppressive caste system and Hindu supremacist ideology. Oppressed castes, and national and religious minorities face systemic discrimination and violence. The current far-right, Hindu nationalist government, led by Narendra Modi, promotes racism and hatred, leading to increasing attacks against oppressed people.
In contrast, China explicitly stresses the importance of multinational unity and of combating chauvinism, particularly of the Han majority. China systemically supports the development of national minorities. For example, urban, eastern provinces send hundreds of thousands of youth volunteers and spend 3-5 percent of their total income supporting western provinces which are more densely populated by national minorities.
Although both countries have far to go, China is also significantly ahead of India in the struggle against patriarchy. China’s adult women’s literacy rate is 94.5 percent, compared with India’s 63 percent. China’s women to men, labor force participation ratio, at 0.81, more than doubles India’s, at 0.34. Similarly, Chinese women’s political participation, at 24.2 percent, is more than twice India’s, which is at 11.8 percent.
Despite formal independence, India remains subordinate to imperialism and severely underdeveloped. India has the worst access to safe-drinking water in the world and 240 million people do not have access to electricity. One in six urban Indians lives in slums and an average of seven structures collapse per day.
In comparison, China has experienced unprecedented economic development and is now the second most powerful economy in the world. Since 1978, China has pursued a policy of economic reform, contrasting sharply with Indian neoliberalism. China’s market reforms are firmly controlled by the socialist state and implemented to overcome the underdevelopment historically imposed on China by Western imperialism.
China is building a modern, moderately prosperous society, spending more on infrastructure than the U.S. and Europe combined. The entire population has access to electricity and China spends hundreds of billions of dollars on water clean-up projects. Further, China is committed to environmental sustainability, leading the world in renewable energy production and employment.
Internationally, China works in cooperation with oppressed nations, providing beneficial alternatives to imperialism. China offers investment, builds infrastructure, forgives debt, and abides by the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries. A key example of China’s global impact is the Belt and Road Initiative, called “the largest single infrastructure program in human history,” currently involving 68 countries and 1,700 development projects. China is the primary force building a multipolar, more democratic international order, ending 500 years of Western imperialist dominance. As such, China’s rise supports the liberation of all peoples oppressed by imperialism.
Liberation lies to the East
It is difficult to overstate the magnitude of Chinese socialist achievements relative to India’s capitalist path in pursuing development and improving living standards. India would benefit substantially from ending hostilities with China, learning from Chinese socialism, and developing a mutually beneficial relationship. Accounting for over one-third of the world’s population, India and China have the potential to form “the most significant bilateral relationship of the 21st century,” as Chinese Premier Li Keqiang stated in 2012.
Conflict with China offers nothing to India’s workers, peasants, and oppressed peoples. Only by breaking with U.S. imperialism and the domestic capitalist ruling class, will India’s people begin their journey from formal independence toward liberation.