Interview: Anja Manuel

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Interview: Anja Manuel

How China and India will shape the world.

Interview: Anja Manuel

It’s become a trope to refer to the 21st century as the “Asian century” – and, contrary to prevailing narratives, that does not simply mean the Chinese century. Another rising Asian giant, India, will play an equally important role in shaping the new world order. So argues Anja Manuel, formerly a veteran negotiator at the U.S. State and currently Partner at The RiceHadley Group LLC, in her new book, This Brave New World: India, China, and the United States. Below, The Diplomat speaks with Manuel about  the challenges facing China and India, and how their interactions with the United States will shape the future.

This Brave New World is about the future of China, India and the United States.  Why did you write a book centered on these three countries? 

If you want a glimpse into the future of the world economy, look no further than the corridors of power and boardrooms of China and India.  They are the worlds’ most populous countries; and in a decade or so, they will be the world’s largest and third largest economies, have more than 1 billion internet users, be consuming the most energy and resources, and creating the most pollution. Like it or not, they will have veto power over many international decisions.

Yet, we appear terrified of China and often seem to ignore India.  The United States must to get our relations with both exactly right or risk a world of low economic growth for all of us, military skirmishes that we can ill-afford, and run-away pollution that will harm our health.

I have spent two decades negotiating with Delhi and Beijing at the State Department, traveling the back-roads of each country, and now advising American businesses how to navigate their often opaque systems.  I wrote this book to help explain what makes these two Asian giants “tick,” and how we can work together for a future where we can all prosper, instead of working against each other and — in the worst case — slipping into a new cold war with China.

You write that, while many still doubt the relevance of India as a global power, they should not.  But does it really compare to China? 

It is true that India will lag behind China in economic development — its reforms started 20 years later.  When I visited Delhi’s slums, people were living in corrugated iron huts with no plumbing or sewage, and making their living by scrounging through a trash dump three football fields high.  In China, there is still real poverty, but not on this scale.

People point to these slums, question whether India’s economy will grow enough for it to become a great power, and discount its international role. This misses the point.  India will likely be the world’s most populous country before 2030, with at least 100 million more citizens than China, and the world’s largest middle class that our companies will aim to sell to. By 2030, India will lead the world in energy demand. It will be the world’s second largest emitter of carbon, third largest source of investment in the rest of the world, and third largest economy after China and the United States.

India is so large that it will impact us whether or not it lifts millions more out of poverty. If it does not grow, international concerns like climate change will only become worse. We need India’s help to solve global problems and to shape China’s rise, so we want it to succeed.

China is the world’s largest emitter of carbon and India is its fastest growing.  The environmental degradation in India and China has a direct impact on the U.S.  Without significant concessions from China and India, the world cannot slow global warming.  How might the United States cooperate with these countries to convince others to act on their finding solutions to environmental problems?

When you see the staggering scale of China’s coal mines — gray, concentric circles 30 football fields in length that make monster orange mining trucks look like toys — you feel in your gut the inexorable drive of China to do all that is necessary to maintain growth.

The Chinese laughed at poor Mark Zuckerberg when he dared to jog through smog-infested Beijing.  In India the air pollution is actually much worse — 13 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities are in India. On the holy Ganges river, pilgrims bathe right next to burning corpses, oblivious to the pollution and potential disease.

Environmental degradation in India and China has a direct impact on the United States: from the Chinese smog cloud that at times reaches all the way to California, to the Pacific garbage patch, to the painful fact that the world cannot slow global warming without significant concessions from its largest carbon emitter (China), and the fastest growing (India).

There is a lot of work to do.  But we will get nowhere by lecturing both countries.  Incentive based schemes, such as the U.S.-India civilian nuclear deal I helped negotiate that will help provide carbon-free energy to electricity-starved India, the recent U.S.-Chinese agreement to combat climate change, and private sector cooperation on clean energy technologies will help all three countries make the right choices, for everyone’s benefit.

With so little historical evidence corroborating its possibility, do you believe the international system can in fact shift peacefully to accommodate the arrival of China and India as world powers?

Absolutely.  We must succeed in this.  A war with China is unthinkable, and a new Cold War is in no one’s interest.  Just imagine the worst case:

China’s demand for resources means it props up dictators in resource-rich countries.  Its lavish infrastructure spending and trade (and our lack of engagement with Asia) means China effectively “purchased” their acquiescence to China’s regional hegemony. Russia has become a junior partner in a China/Russia axis that confronts American policy at every turn. China launches constant, low-level cyber attacks against the United States. India and China have had several military skirmishes along their disputed Himalayan border.  In this scenario, India’s fear of China has brought it into a close military alignment with the United States and others.

As these opposing coalitions form, an arms race increases military spending. That escalation diverts much-needed funds from social services, improvements in education, and vital infrastructure projects in the United States, China and India.  India and China’s immense carbon emissions have led to irreversible climate change.

This is an extreme scenario, of course, but the belligerent and protectionist language Trump, Sanders and Cruz are using in this election put us on a very worrisome trajectory.  Military spending in Asia is already rising faster than anywhere else on earth.

So, how would you make sure China and India’s rise is peaceful?

Both China and India are essentially “teenage” powers — they are just reemerging as major forces on the world scene.

First, we should be patient when China or India act impetuously (as most new powers do.) For example, when China set up a new Asian Infrastructure Bank — we snubbed them, instead of joining and trying to shape it. We should keep talking to establish cyber rules of the road, instead of indicting their hackers — who will never be sent to the U.S. for trial in any event.

Second, be clear about where our lines are and enforce them consistently.  For example, we should never have stopped our freedom of navigation exercises in the South China Sea, get as many other countries as we can to do this as well, and we should keep the pressure on Chinese industrial cyber-spying.

Third, practice cooperating wherever we can. This will create the goodwill that makes crises easier to work out.   We should find joint projects together that help us all, such as the climate change agreement China and US announced in 2014, or the civil nuclear deal I helped negotiate.  Those were difficult, often painful talks, but they taught us how to work closely with the Indians and unlocked lots of cooperation in defense and counter-terrorism, for example.

This isn’t just the job of governments.  American companies can help India with clean technologies or help provide care for China’s graying population — all while supporting American jobs.  All of us can invite Chinese or Indian students to our homes, travel there, and engage as much as possible — all to increase our limited knowledge of each other and end the distrust.