The title of the post sounds like a Tintin comic. Of a big eyed kid making his way into the exotic far east and winging his way successfully through adversity and solving the mystery. As cute that sounds, China is still this exotic east to Indian policy makers. Since the war in the 1960s they’ve almost forgotten about it and preferred to focus their energies on Pakistan (East and West) , Soviet Union and the US.  The only constant issue with China since the 60s has been Dalai Lama (or the Dalai Lama clique as the Chinese like to say).

This was the case until the early 21st century when China somehow tore through the screen and burst upon the India stage. Then corporate India discovered Shanghai and wanted Mumbai to be the next Shanghai and the ability of China to ‘get things done’ was greatly admired. It was a common dinner party conversation, especially during the political insecurity before Vajpayee government came to power, to talk about how India needs a dictatorship to get things moving. Side by side was the whispering of how China fudges its numbers, there is no democracy, it arms Pakistan and then some columnist wanting to show off his knowledge of China would write about a Shen Tzu strategy and explain that the Chinese are really coming this time. In between all this they were few well researched voices on China. One was C Raja Mohan’s Chinese takeaway in the Indian express which still continues. Then there were the people from JNUs centre for east asian studies who always had something interesting to add when they were interviewed on TV and I always wondered why I don’t see them more.

So this time when Krishna went to China he was accompanied by foreign secretary Nirupama Rao. She was the ambassador to China in her last posting and is the resident expert on China. As ambassador to China she was famously awakened in the middle of the night to take a Chinese protest on disrupting the Olympic torch at India Gate. Probably the most significant thing that came out of the talks was the hotline between the two heads of state, which sounds like nothing (it had been pre agreed by the two heads of state). But I think I now know China a little better than a few years ago and the success of the trip is not to be measured in the press conference after the meeting , but in the months and even years after the meeting. The Chinese press conferences anyway have enough ‘harmonies’ and ‘peaceful’ words to start their own version of bullshit bingo !

My point is that I hope that the Indian policy makers have now realised that India’s relationship with China in the coming years will be as significant, if not more, than its relationship with the US. I say this because India and the US have a lot in common and the relationship has seen some work in the past 20 years. India also has a lot of common with China (for eg: both have a hierarchical society, a lot of work gets done in informal gatherings etc) but these commonalities have to be built upon. Both are growing economies (albeit China is about 10 years ahead of India) and both face similar needs (of natural resources), similar challenges (population) although they have different ways of dealing with them. India should be in a position to take advantage of China’s development just as India should be open for the Chinese to take part in her development.

On India’s side, this will need a complex mature relationship built on fulfilling on India’s interests without compromising on her security. I don’t think India has this relationship with any of her neighbours and maybe a beginning can be made with China. So maybe Krishna needs to go to China more often.

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So much has happened since I last wrote. But in my mind all this had already happened and the only difference is that it has only now got reported in the news. Yes i know it all and I know it before it gets reported. My other name is Zeus, master of Gods, and I gave birth to Athena on a sunny day while sipping ouzo.

My favourite news is the crowning of G20 as the primary country grouping on economic and financial matters. G20 still has too much of Europe in it. Including EU and excluding UK it still has 4 seats. Also not sure what will happen when some new countries enter the top 20. Will countries be dropped off the grouping and what will that do to investor confidence in that country. G8 although will still discuss political and security issues, that is the role of the Security Council. G8 saw the writing on the wall in an ever-increasing font size, but to their credit they did chose to see now and not 5 years later. The latter strategy is now being employed by the Security council. Also there are still a lot of issues that the west leaders still dont see – unfair practices is one, immigration is another and climate change is the big daddy of them all. I could go on but Zeus is not known for ranting. He is prone to resolving issues with a discus throw or launching a thunderbolt. Neither of these I posses and so I will not compare myself with Zeus anymore.

Then within the G20 is the G2. I am highly amused with the headlines of how China is going to take over the world, 3 trillion of reserves, future of the communist party etc etc. I wonder how much of this surplus is because of American consumption and of its ‘allies’. On the other hand there is a relatively lack of Chinese consumption of American made stuff. If the Americans cant make anything that the Chinese want then that needs a serious rethink. Maybe the world has shifted from Americans trying to understand what Americans want and then trying to export it to the rest of the world (what americans want today, the world wants tomorrow) to Americans really trying to understand what the world wants. Maybe the American consumer is not a barometer of the world demand as it was before. A good start will be with America ceasing to look for signs of Chinese collapse. Every year there is some story of how the communist party is losing its grip on its people. Then next year and 1 trillion dollars later the old story is forgotten and a new one is cooked up.

Maybe Obama can move on from calling China ‘not a friend, not an enemy but a competitor’. Not sure what that means really. But even in recognising China as a competitor is an admission that the world is moving to bipolar and multipolar states. What does that mean for the countries that are on the margin, who are either openly against the US or only with the US because the other option is usually to be under sanctions of one form or the other. One example that comes to mind is Pakistan. Its ruling class (politicians, army, landholders) have been forced by the US to wage a war with the Taliban against their wishes. All this for a couple of billion dollars of aid a year. During the cold war they got much more with no questions and didn’t have to hear the US calling India its ‘strategic ally’. Soon to add to the music will be IMF which will probably ask Pakistan to expand its tax base, reform land ownership. It would rather pledge its soul to the new devil in town , also known as an all weather friend’. For some land and dams China will give Pakistan the money to keep the status quo. Pakistan can either take the money or use that threat against the US. It could still do it if it can survive for the next 10 years in its current condition.

But the bigger question is what will G2 mean to the world ? what does it mean to have a superpower rise? Most of the world’s population was too young or not born to see the early decades of the cold war. How will America respond to its waning influence ? One sign that is already visible is that it is clearly focussing more on Asia. It wants to be part of the proposed East Asia grouping. The other bit is ofcourse it will want the G2 to quickly become a G3 or a G4. There is no shortage of superpower ambition around the world and that only needs a little encouragement !

I sat through a G20 briefing today at work and it was pointed out that its all men , and one woman, around the table and discussion is on drab economic stuff. Its about fiscal stimulus, regulation and protectionism. Except this time the economic stuff is making rivetting front page headlines. There was also talk about all the bilateral summits that will happen along the sidelines of the summit. I am usually confused when so much is happening so quickly. But this time, as the summit approaches, i am clear on some things. For me in this group of 20 there are 2 big elephants in the room. That is US and China. Of these 2 elephants, one is older and slowing and that is the US and the other is young and raging and that is China. They are not necessarily competing but they are not the best of friends either. They are not at each others throats because they face 2 big common enemies. One is the economic recession which if continued unabated threatens to wipe out their economies built on free trade  and second is global warming. Global warming is not on the agenda because it doesn’t yet hit as hard as the recession. Of the 2 elephants, the US has shown most of its cards. Its put as much money as it can in the stimulus, it has micromanaged bankers and car companies, tweaked its trading regulations and even tried to tell the world what to do. China on the other hand has not shown its hand completely and the buzz at the summit is that may surprise everyone with a big stimulus. The world , including the one smart woman, is looking at China to do something. Boost domestic demand, revalue its currency, buy more US debt if possible etc. Whats even more interesting to me is when the elephants meet at the sidelines of the summit both of them will be aware of it.

This brings me nicely into what I really wanted to write about and that is China. China to me is another Africa. I know very little about it. For the most populous country in the world, 3rd largest economy and the winner of the most gold medals in the last Olympics, the country gets disproportionately little attention.Yes it doesn’t make it very easy for media companies to operate there. Even then I think more can be done. Here is a country that is going to dominate more and more of world stage and I know frustratingly little about it. I know more about Sarkozy’s views of the world than about some of the new ideas that are coming from China or what is China’s view on the war in Afghanistan. Which is not to say Sarkozy’s views are not important. But France is now part of NATO , so I might as well listen to Obama. Couldn’t resist that !

G20 is being held at the Excel centre in London docklands. My only visit there was last year for the Chinese dragon boat race festival. It is only apt that G20 is being held there because for me the event will signal that the Chinese dragon is inching ahead of all the other boats.

The Olympics are over and in what style. This is the best closing ceremony I have seen ever and even London managed to put in a good eight minutes. The party then continued here in London and even the sun came out to party. I now have a hangover and I can’t believe that there are no Olympics on in the telly. There is no synchronised swimming, no taekwondo and no show jumping. There is no Usain Bolt teaching me how to dance to reggae music or Michael Phelps talking about how it was all about a 12000 calorie diet.  There are no spectators on TV screaming China or even my long standing favourite, the Brazilian women beach volleyball team.  There is no tension between the American and the Chinese gymnasts which reminded me of the Cold war days. I am afraid that I will never know how old are those Chinese gymnast babies. They will be no more of Aussies grudging the British team of their spectacular performance. There are no more of these insanely talented sportsmen and women making it look all so easy.

I can’t remember ever following the Olympics so closely. This time was folowing it on the TV, radio, blogs, podcasts, newspaper and ofcourse the betting sites. The betters had Usain down for the new 200m world record even before his first apperance in the competition.  The Olympics was to me a perfect party. There was politics, sporting achievements, gossip, conspiracy theories and the ever hanging threat of something will happen that will spoil China’s party. And to top it all of it could be watched,listened as read without much effort. What else does a man need ? Even India which usually spoils my Olympics managed to win 3 medals and this is the first time ever we have done it. I don’t know whether to be happy or to be sad. I’ll take happy, thank you.

The Olympics turned out to be much better than I had expected. I had thought given the very exciting run up the actual Olympics would be quite boring. The opening and closing ceremonies were brilliant. However, everything was a bit too perfect. I was waiting for one performer to be out of line, or forget his move, or sing out of tune. Not one wrinkle in the entire operation. London’s 8 minute capsule was refreshingly different and my employer got a reference which made me very happy. It focused more on individualism, and therein lies the difference between 2 cultures, thought streams and even value system. We can talk forever about which is superior and better.I don’t see why there has to be one which is better. Can it all not just co-exist ?

Isn’t that what the Olympics are all about ?

The run up to the Olympics has been the most interesting to me. I have been waiting for the run up to unfold itself , more than the games itself. China has been put under the scanner like never before and everything from air quality to human rights have been discussed threadbare. The media has been full of programs about China right from Sichuan cooking to chinese kids learning to be acrobats and gymnasts. Journalists of all shapes and types are travelling all over China and fiing stories like never before.

This immediately brings 2 analogies to my head: One, of an old house which was always out of bound for kids has suddenly been opened and the kids are now all over it and find every aspect of it supremely interesting. Two, of a beauty contestant coming up in the front of the stage to let herself be judged begins to blink in front of the popping flash bulbs, only to be marked down for blinking.

China is like that beauty contestant and the whole world is almost like waiting for her to blink. The world is waiting for China to take one false step. I am no fan of Chinese politics although I do admire their ancient culture. And yet I feel this magnifying glass that China is being put through is too much. Most countries in the world subject to this kind of scrutiny will blink and bite back. China in an earlier time would have closed in like it did around the Tianammen square incident, but this time it can’t because it has the Olympics to host.That in a way encourages the world to push even more.

While the world is ready to do business with China and let it be among their largest trading partner without caring about its human rights and politics but when it comes to the Olympics, China is expected to be on its best behaviour. It is allright for us to go to the high street and buy Chinese made good because they are cheap and help us save more and after we are well clothed we like to talk about how China is trampling on the human rights of its people.

I am no fan of Chinese politics, i am also no fan of hypocrisy.

We woke up to white sunday today. Typically weird weather to cap what has been a weird week so far. As I write this, the Olympic torch makes its way through the snowy streets of London with the odd demonstrator trying to hijack the torch. Both the Chinese and Tibetan supporters are out in full force. I have not seen so much security for a long time. Its been interesting watching this entire anti-Chinese demonstration play itself out, hearing why the protestors are right or wrong and yet at the end the right to protest is held paramount.

This is probably the first time since China has crept up to world dominance, that the anti-Chinese voices of the world have got a platform to bring out their grieviances. Its one thing being the world’s back office and completely another thing being the world’s factory. As India has become the world back office its been under constant media scrutiny, what with people calling their banks and finding a strange accent speak back to them. But China has become the factory under much less scrutinty. How many people bother to look at the ‘Made in’ label, as long as the product looks allright, its cheap and is of the expected quality and if you don’t like it then you can always return it. Easier to boycott the call centres and much more difficult to boycott the cheap clothes and laptops. I regularly see banks advertising British call centres, I hardly ever see apparel and computer brands advertise British factories.

So China has crept up to world dominance with very little or no scruitny. It has actually been responsible in a large way of the economic boom of the past 10 years with incomes rising and lot of supermarket prices remaining almost stagnant. There is now talk of boycotting Chinese goods to teach a lesson to China. I think it is a bit late in the day for us to do that. China has arrived and is here to stay. Olympics are its coming of age party. No one can deny it that. The best the world can do is to engage in a dialogue with China to open up its civil society.

Boycotting the Olympics, or threatening to boycott it, is not the best way to start a dialogue.

This is a feeling I am used to. I want to write and yet I don’t know what to write. There are a million thoughts running through my head and yet I don’t know what to write. All i know is that i want to write. Want. What. Write. Working for  a news organisation ensures that I get more than my daily fix of news. Its like how people are addicted to coffee, cigarettes, alcohol etc. I am addicted to news. So on a typical day I will go through atleast 50 emails with news articles, google news alerts, miscellaneous news websites and then there is also a TV running where I sit. Plus I will read a newspaper, read the Economist and try and fit in a current affairs podcast. I right now have news and current affairs pouring out of my head. Am I complaining ? No. Do I want more ? Probably yes.

Yet the more I have all this feed into my mind the more it becomes clear to me. There is a pattern in everything that happens. There is always a perspective, a past, to any given situation and only very few people are able to get it. Everything that is happening now, if cast into the right perspective suddenly makes it  all eay to understand. Its like these old men sinking into their arm chairs by their fireplace with a glass of single malt and discussing the news of the day with all their experience. Suddenly, everything seems normal, everything seems allright.

Siting in London, I am forced to take a world perspective about everything. India seems to be only a blip in the radar. A big blip but still a blip. US on the other hand occupies half of the radar, EU one fourth and rest of the world the balance one fourth. Do we live in a unipolar world? yes sir we do. Will we continue living in one for some time to come ? yes we will. Does it matter ? no. Was the world a better place when there were 2 superpowers ? probably not. All this happens while China prepares for its coming out party. The olympics. The world suddenly discoveres Sudan and decides to beat China with its stick. Like this is the first Olympics where the host nation has had a messy past. I just love it when some countries decide to get all holy and morally correct. Reminds me of my mother who can till this day remember everything bad i said or did to her, but who in her infinite wisdom has decided to put it all aside and still love me. Its an argument that I cannot win.

What am i talking anyway ? I’ve written 3 paras of nothing. I guess this is what it means for wanting to write but not knowing what to write.  Its like wanting to go down a path because it looks nice, not knowing or caring where it would lead me. We talk about so much about the journeys being important and yet we don’t choose our journeys, we only choose our final destination. We forget that we live in a world of choice. We get to choose everything , all the time.

And yet this has all happened before. There is a past to it and a perspective. Get it ?