Reviewed by David Buck (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee)
Published on H-Asia (April, 2018)
Commissioned by Sumit Guha (The University of Texas at Austin)
Chris Ogden has used a familiar trope of comparing India and China as two newer world powers. This kind of comparison goes back to the 1950s when China and India both took stances as states nonaligned with the Cold War. In the early twenty-first century as both China and India began to become more developed and powerful, interest in this kind of comparison revived. Ogden has used this comparison in a workman-like way employing obvious dimensions such as domestic affairs, strategic identities, military capacity, and economic growth.
The problem with this approach turns up as early as page 2 where Ogden quotes the comparative economist Angus Maddison’s calculations of the GDPs of India and China as a percentage of world GDP over the past two thousand years. Maddison found in 1950 the two states were fairly close: China claimed 4.6 percent and India 4.2 percent of total world GDP. By 2008, just seven years after China joined the World Trade Organization, China’s share had leaped ahead to 17.5 percent and India’s had grown modestly to 6.7 percent. In the decade since that time China has continued to grow at a remarkable pace and while India has also prospered, its economic growth is much more modest. An obvious conclusion is that China is already a great world power and India, while growing, has not yet achieved great power status. Practical policies based on using India as a counterweight to China’s burgeoning power, as attempted by former US Secretary of State Tillerson, have met with little acceptance.
That does not mean that an exercise comparing India and China is wrong, but it clearly is incorrect to argue that India in any way is a state comparable to China in terms of any of Ogden’s chosen criteria of military capabilities, economic growth, relations with nearby states, engagement with the United States, et cetera. Ogden does foreshadow China’s present-day vastly increased power and influence in Asia and the world, but his whole approach embodies the argument that the two are comparable as powerful nations. It brings to mind comparisons between the United States and Argentina at the end of the nineteenth century. Both were New World states blessed with large amounts of territory, vibrant societies with strong European immigrant populations and apparently bright prospects in the twentieth century. Such comparisons are forgotten today.
Nevertheless, Ogden has done his homework and cites an impressive array of scholarly studies to show how both China and India are becoming more important states. The problem is that China has leaped ahead in the past five-plus years when Xi Jinping came to power. Ogden’s characterization of China’s goals combines an appreciation of how Deng Xiaoping broke the bonds of Mao’s self-reliance with a now outdated view that Xi Jinping envisions China as a regional power trying to be a good neighbor. Since the fall of 2017 and continuing into this year, Xi Jinping sharply elevated the goals of his China Dream. Chinese authoritarian capitalism, combined with complete social control under the aegis of the Chinese Communist Party, will be the model for world’s future. Ogden’s book was already in print in the six months from October 2017 to March 2018 when this much grander vision of China’s role in world became clear.
Ogden characterizes Xi Jinping’s conception of China’s role in the world by quoting Xi’s speech to the Chinese Communist’s 18th National Party Congress in 2012 of as “accepting the baton of history and continuing to work for the realizing the great revival of the Chinese nation, in order to let the Chinese nation stand more firmly and powerfully among all nations among the world” (p. 31). That speech marked the establishment of Xi Jinping’s leadership in China. In October 2017, five years later, Xi spoke again when confirming his leadership at the 19th National Party Congress by emphasizing the remarkable achievements of the past five years and the great potential for continuing success. Xi claimed China has achieved “a leading position in terms of economic and technological strength, defense capabilities, and composite national strength. Our Party, our country, our people, our forces, our nation have changed in ways without precedent. The Chinese nation, with an entirely new posture, now stands tall and firm in the East.” He went on to proclaim China represents an alternative model of development to that of the United States and the West. Clearly, Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party are claiming power and influence far above the level of 2012. In the early months of 2018, Xi Jinping’s power has been further solidified by a constitutional amendment that permits him to remain as leader for life.
With this assertive self-confidence Xi Jinping and China have eclipsed the comparisons that form the basis of Ogden’s comparison of India and China. Through no fault of Chris Ogden, his book’s premises have been overcome by Xi Jinping’s magnification of the Chinese Dream to a model for the whole world and by the weakening of United States hegemony under President Trump. Ogden wrote his book for use in college classrooms, but today, less than a year after its release, it is out of date, bypassed by the tumult of world politics. Ogden, as most of us, did not foresee what has happened in the past year.
. Xi Jinping, report to the 19th CPC National Congress, October 18, 1917, Xinhua website, http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/special/2017-11/03/c_136725942.htm, 9, last accessed April 16, 2018.
. “China's Xi allowed to remain 'president for life' as term limits removed,” BBC News, March 11, 2018, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-43361276, last accessed April 3, 2018.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-asia.
David Buck. Review of Ogden, Chris, China and India: Asia's Emergent Great Powers.
H-Asia, H-Net Reviews.
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