April 7th 2018

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Free trade agreements leave us even more dependent on China

EDITORIAL Why Russia re-elected Vladimir Putin

CANBERRA OBSERVED Empty seat last vestige of minor parties' party

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Liberals take power but plan for none for SA

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Sexual exploitation at Oxfam symptom of culture of death

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM General protection gives a false sense of security

PHILOSOPHY AND CULTURE On celestial politics

GENDER POLITICS Trans ideology awash with big money from big biomed and big pharma

REGIONAL AFFAIRS Taiwan stands up to Beijing's bullyboy tactics

CINEMA Outstanding film follows St Paul to his death in Rome

HUMOUR An Appetite for Diamonds: Porphyry Volpone investigates

MUSIC Power playing: Technique v musicality

CINEMA Peter Rabbit: More Bugs than Beatrix, but lots of fun

BOOK REVIEW We're doomed; but we're not alone

BOOK REVIEW Subcontinent set for Asian century


NATIONAL AFFAIRS The deeper causes of Australia's social malaise

GENDER POLITICS Queensland proposes transgender birth certificates

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Subcontinent set for Asian century

News Weekly, April 7, 2018

OUR TIME HAS COME: How India Is Making Its Place in the World

by Alyssa Ayres

OUP, Oxford
Hardcover: 256 pages
Price: AUD$33.95

Reviewed by John Barich

As this book was being launched by the Australian Institute of International Affairs, Freedom Publishing was selling Everything Under the Heavens: How the Past Helps Shape China’s Push for Global Power by Howard W. French.

While India was seeking its rightful place in the world, China was trying to re-establish the historical tribute system of tian xia whereby vassals state kowtowed to Beijing.

According to French, above and beyond all other constraints, though, it is China’s demographics that will constitute the country’s greatest challenge by far over the coming decades; and for the United States it is this same population factor that will provide its greatest buffer against a sustained challenge.

Furthermore, the changing dynamics of the Chinese population more than anything else explain Beijing’s apparent present haste. China has embarked on a process of aging that is due to proceed with almost unprecedented speed, soon placing the country in a situation unparalleled in world history: that of a newly and still very unevenly modernised country that must build a social welfare system on the backs of a rapidly declining workforce.

In large part this ageing of the population is due to the immoral one-child policy that has now been replaced with a two-child policy. One wonders whether this new policy will also include forcible abortions?

In journalistic shorthand, China’s new dilemma is known as the paradox of scope: of growing old before growing rich. What few understand is that the scope of the problem is so great that Chinese society will be stuck with this outcome even if the formidable economic growth of the last several decades can somehow be sustained.

Over the past 25 years, India’s explosive economic growth has vaulted it into the ranks of the world’s emerging major powers. Long plagued by endemic poverty, until the 1990s the Indian economy was also hamstrung by a burdensome regulatory regime that limited its own companies’ ability to compete on a global scale.

In the past India suffered recurrent famines. In 1965 the NCC led a group to fund the purchase of 100,000 tonnes of wheat to relieve one such famine. The advent of the Green Revolution (see News Weekly book review, “The father of the green revolution”, May 23, 2015) by means of hybrid cereals has since prevented such famines.

Since the 1990s, the Indian government has gradually opened up the economy, and recent governments have pushed more actively for a larger role for India on the world stage. The country’s sheer scale means its actions will have a major global impact.

The year 1991 was the historic turning point. The beginning of liberalisation would, over the next 15 years, propel the country’s rapid growth and its rise as an international economic force. Notably, these 1991 reforms took place in an atmosphere of crisis, and were done under duress. As important, they remain incomplete.

It’s time to get used to the fact that while India still struggles at home with poverty and a plethora of social issues – and likely will continue to for the foreseeable future – it is growing less and less reticent about its global ambitions. In other words, while many of the internal cleavages that have preoccupied India for decades remain unresolved – in that sense, enforcing a status quo – at the same time, the country has embarked upon a larger role for itself internationally. It is India’s more confident quest for global prominence that forms the subject for Alyssa Ayres’ book.

India is now on track to become the world’s third-largest economy at market exchange rates over the next 15 years. Using another measure – purchasing power parity, which accounts for price differences across countries – India became the world’s third-largest economy in 2011, surpassing Japan.

In a 2015 speech delivered in Kuala Lumpur, Prime Minister Modi conveyed an assuredness about India’s moment: “Now, it is India’s turn. And we know that our time has come.”

His conviction about both time and India’s place echoed those of his predecessor, Manmohan Singh, eight years earlier. “I am confident that our time has come. India is all set to regain its due place in the comity of nations.”

India has 1.3 billion people, and the United Nations estimates that it will overtake China as the most populous country in the world by 2022. India’s youthful demographic profile means that it will be the youngest major country in the world by then, with a median age of 28. The workforce-age population, meaning those between the ages of 15 and 64, will continue to grow until 2050. This creates what experts call the demographic dividend: a large working-age population supporting relatively few retired people.

By contrast, Japan, Western Europe, and even China will be much older countries.

India fields the world’s third-largest military, with a force strength of nearly 1.4 million on active duty, and 1.15 million reservists. For 2016–17, its defence budget was a little over $52 billion, and it plans to spend $100 billion over the next decade on its extensive military modernisation.

With its more comfortable economic position, India has been the world’s largest importer of military equipment for the last five years, and its procurements from American companies have gone from essentially zero to more than $15 billion over the past decade.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, India became the world’s fifth-largest military spender in 2016, ahead of France and the United Kingdom. The International Institute of Strategic Studies pegged India’s military budget as the sixth largest in the world in 2016, ahead of Japan and France and only slightly behind the United Kingdom.

Either way, India is clearly moving up. It has begun a process of defence indigenisation so it can develop its own advanced defence technologies.

However, rising per-capita incomes have not ended caste and religious strife in India. No one worries anymore about “fissiparous tendencies” – a keyword for mid-20th-century anxieties about the Indian nation-state holding itself together – but that does not mean that protests, occasional violence, and deep divisions have ended.

India’s big political debate over the role of religion in defining the nation remains. Will it continue to cleave to Nehruvian secularism or will the majority faith, Hinduism, play an ever-larger role in the public sphere?

According to Ayres, religious tensions have not disappeared, and they remain the country’s major social cleavages. In 2012, doctored photos of allegedly anti-Muslim violence circulated via text messages abetted conflict between Muslims and an ethnic group from India’s northeast, leading to an exodus of some three hundred thousand northeasterners from Indian cities.

Hindu-Muslim riots in Uttar Pradesh during 2013 killed 50 and displaced forty thousand people. Ayres cites these cases to illustrate that religious conflict has taken place in states led by parties other than the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

In the early 2000s, when India’s IT industry was growing rapidly and the country’s middle class was poised for a boom, Goldman Sachs published its “Dreaming with BRICs” report. Suddenly, global interest in India perked up. The Bush administration placed a high priority on expanding ties with India, and indeed in helping India rise as a global power.

This period of heady optimism appeared to crystallise in the 2008 passage of a civil nuclear agreement between India and the United States. The agreement, which freed India from sanctions imposed after it tested nuclear weapons in 1974 and 1998, seemed to portend a transformative, even decisive, moment for India on the world stage.

The story of India’s opening would not be complete without a brief mention of the changes that transformed the country’s media and communications environment, and directly plugged India into the rest of the world. These changes are hardly unique to India – the telecommunications revolution is one of the great clichés of globalisation – but the scale and speed of India’s metamorphosis remains breathtaking.

India’s efforts to establish itself as the preeminent Indian Ocean presence has resulted in a clearly articulated maritime defence strategy with an ambitious plan for the Indian Navy, combined with new Indian military diplomacy to extended India’s security ties around the region. Part of this is the establishment of a naval base in the Seychelles.

These efforts build on Indian diplomatic initiatives launched in some cases decades ago to create new institutions for a region that has a deficit of them, and in the process devise a central coordinating role for India. While the U.S. alliances call for support of the U.S. by its members, for example, ANZUS, and an emergent India expects reciprocity, China’s incipient hegemony based on imperial antecedents will have a considerable negative impact on Australia.

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