February 8, 2010

How India and China Approach Separatism

While the Chinese government prefers development over human rights (like freedom of religion and speech), the Indian government, while guaranteeing these rights, neglects development.

Since their inception, the republics of India and China have faced problems of separatism. Indian Naxalite movements and the recent riots and uprisings in Xinjiang and Tibet highlight the need for respective governments to tackle the issue seriously.

The Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called the Naxal movement 'The biggest internal security threat to the country'. Armed Naxals are active in at least a third of India's districts. It is estimated that some 6000 people have died already as a result of the Naxal insurgency. Apparently, there are some 20,000 armed cadre Naxalites, apart from 50,000 regular cadres working in various mass organizations - with millions of sympathizers.
In Xinjiang's capital city of Urumqi, riots broke out in July 2009, killing 197 people, most of them Han Chinese. Although it appears that the immediate cause of the riot was the Shaoguan incident, Chinese media says that the police have evidence that the World Uyghur Congress (whose main source of funding is the US government) masterminded the riots.

In the Tibetan uprising of 2008, at least 19-22 people were killed (estimates vary) amidst reports of widespread looting and burning of public property. According to Chinese premier Wen Jiabao, more than 10 Chinese embassies and consulates worldwide were also attacked at the same time. He has openly accused the Dalai Lama as having orchestrated the uprising. The facts that a) the uprising took place on the 49th anniversary of the failed CIA backed Tibet uprising of 1959, and b) that it  occurred just before the Beijing Olympics, are probably not a coincidence.

Whoever might have been guilty of masterminding these events, the fact remains that none of the accused parties can claim that there is a lack of Economic Development in the minority regions of China. Which is in stark contrast to India, where the government itself has admitted that the lack of development is the main cause of the Naxal menace. The Indian government neglected those resource-rich regions for years - and is now paying the price. Now when the government sanctions any big project in the region, then the local tribal population and some NGOs accuse it of "playing into the hands of multinationals".

By contrast, the Chinese government has put a greater emphasis on economic development and has restricted religious freedom, for example,
  1. Children under 18 are discouraged from visiting places of worship
  2. All government employees are heavily encouraged to renounce their religion and become atheist (While the Indian Government is officially secular; the Chinese government is officially atheist).
  3. Religious practice is restricted to government sanctioned organizations.
  4. Lack of Freedom of assembly
         are just some of the restrictions.

Hence, whatever be the cause of the riots (religious restrictions or outside interference), it is clear that the Chinese government gives more importance to development than to religion - or whatever goes by that name. This is in stark contrast to India, where there is a high (and often exaggerated) amount religious freedom and freedom of speech, but where the government has continuously neglected the development of tribal areas - hence the unrest against it.

And herein lies one of the many differences in these two governments' approaches. China thinks that (in the words of the western media) that it can "buy" stability with development. A recent conference on Tibet in Beijing concluded with the decision that economic development in Tibet will ensure stability. While the Chinese government often speaks of 'social stability' and 'harmonious society' (President Hu Jintao's catchphrase) as two of its main goals; it seems that the only goal of the Indian government is to win elections. As Pallavi Aiyar puts it,
"In India legitimacy is derived from process while in China, it’s increasingly drawn from performance. In India, the process of getting elected and the fact that citizens participate actively in the political process provides governments with their legitimacy. Ironically, the result is that once in power performance is not always as important for a government as the fact of having been elected. In other words the means (of getting elected) become more important than the end (of good governance as defined by delivery of public goods etc)"
In other words,  while the Chinese government thinks that it's duty is to deliver growth, the Indian government thinks that it's duty is to win elections.

China believes that economic development in minority regions will bring social stability (and has refused to negotiate with the World Uyghur Congress), while the Indian government believes that the right to free speech will ensure social stability; and has offered to talk with the Naxals if they abjure violence.

Most Chinese have so far been largely happy with this trade-off between better standards of living and Human Rights. While the Indian public and media are proud of their democratic values (The Indian PM, comparing India with China, said, "Unlike China, India has growth with values"), lament on their government's disability to deliver growth and improve living standards. For example, India has more people owning a mobile phone than access to a proper toilet.

Hence, while the Chinese government prefers development over human rights (like freedom of religion and speech), the Indian government, while guaranteeing these rights, neglects development - it would not be an over statement to say that it in fact uses these rights as an excuse to neglect its performance. The standard excuse given is (with even the Home minister P. Chidambaram saying it) that " if you don't like the government, just throw them out and elect a new one", conveniently ignoring the fact that successive governments have neglected developing tribal areas, regardless of political affiliation. The Naxal movement's origins can be traced back to 1967.

Hence, it can be argued that the Indian government uses political rights as a excuse to neglect development, the Chinese government uses development as an excuse to neglect political rights.

However, if the respective governments combined these two extreme approaches, then they will be in a better position to address their respective problems.

In simple terms, the Chinese government believes that it deserves to be in power because it has developed the country; the Indian Government believes it deserves to be in power simply because the people have voted for it.

(update: This post is also featured on Fool's Mountain and Hidden Harmonies)