A passage to India, or slow boat to China?

David Harris
Citizen Special

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

A passage to India, or a slow boat to China? At last, Stephen Harper's government might be making the right choice.

For years Canadian diplomacy has emphasized China over India. But next week, Trade Minister David Emerson's high-profile India mission can bring a needed change -- provided Canada's government is prepared to pursue the right initiatives.

Why rebalance relations in favour of India?

China is the world's biggest dictatorship. It does not share our Canadian values, nor is it our friend. China is landlord to the globe's largest gulag, with executions by the thousands. Canadians should be concerned about China's burgeoning imperialism, aggressive military, alarming 18-per-cent military budget growth, nuclear aircraft carriers, satellite-killers -- and sending Silkworm missiles, nuclear technology and weapons grab-bags to Iran. Add to that the harassing of democratic Taiwan, spying on Canadian industry and technology, and agents bullying Canadian Chinese immigrants for co-operation, and we must ask ourselves why we have been so ready to do business with Beijing.

Compare this to a sister Commonwealth democracy offering a healthy economic, political and social alternative. India is better for Canadians in the long run.

Consider economics. By December, even the China-friendly Asia Times conceded that "India has gate crashed into the list of ... the fastest-growing economies in the world.

"(T)he elephant has finally begun to trot."

No wonder. India's annual GDP growth is now only one percentage point short of China's 10 per cent. And by some accounts the subcontinent is pushing a broader spectrum -- both manufacturing and services -- than China's emphasis on manufacturing. Fortune magazine tellingly titled an assessment, "Why India will overtake China."

Like China, India must parry inflationary thrusts, and Delhi's infrastructural and labour-related decision-making are inefficient. This is thanks to India's share of the usual democratic tensions connected with competing labour, capital, rural, urban, regional, and even caste pressures.

But, as Indian journalist Siddharth Srivastava correctly argues, these tensions give his country a priceless long-term advantage over China: "Growth is more equitable, which is a much more sustainable trajectory." Indeed, democracy gives citizens levers to deal with challenges such as growth-related pollution, levers unavailable to China's overwhelmed peasants.

Democracy's "equity impulse" comes through in India's struggle to resolve rural-urban disparity. Indians pay no tax on farm income. But in good "socialist" tradition, rural Chinese taxes in 10 years rose 800 per cent -- but farm incomes, only 90 per cent.

Then there is India's growing market of 300 million middle-class purchasers. And another advantage over China: English is an official language of both India and Canada. Happy Canadian marketers find ready audiences in India's 300 million English speakers.

Prospects will brighten further, with reports of 1,500 new Indian colleges to be under construction by 2012.

In light of all this, the Harper government must recognize where Canada's true national economic interest resides, and engage more fully with India. Besides, economics isn't the only reason.

India, through its multi-ethnic, multi-religious secular-democratic system of governance, has come to maturity as the world's biggest democracy. A fellow-inheritor of British judicial traditions of rule of law and due process, it leaves Beijing's neo-Stalinist secret police skulking far behind. To treat with India is to reinforce human rights and constitutional government for a good proportion of the planetary population. To treat with Beijing is to reinforce a police or gulag slave state -- and one that undermines our balance of payments and employment, to boot.

A target of al-Qaeda long before the United States was ever struck, India's government responds with restraint and dignity to radical Islamist murder sprees, including Pakistan-based ones. Its attempts to work with its Muslim minority are reminiscent of Canada's own preoccupation with equality.

Abroad, India puts its money where its liberal-democratic mouth is, reinforcing the global defence against Islamist terror by pumping more than $750 million into Afghan aid since 2001. Through this, India has made itself a best friend of Afghanistan's moderate Karzai government, and a staunch comrade and strategic partner in Canada's combat and rebuilding mission in the region. India is a worthy bulwark and ally in Canada's defence against Islamofascist infiltration and warfare.

And contrast India's defence-oriented military with Chinese President Hu Jintao's ominous expansionist talk about its "historical mission." As Tibet languishes under New China's jackboot, India notes uneasily its totalitarian neighbour's appetite for Indian territory.

Solidarity with India, including diplomatic and military co-operation, will benefit the wider international democratic community. Besides, it just might send a message to Iran, Sudan, Pakistan and other Chinese-armed threats.

So how should Trade Minister Emerson take all this into account next week? Make clear that Ottawa will build India more fully into Canada's policies and plans. Make India -- and not just, as at present, China -- part of the billion-dollar Asia-Pacific Gateway Strategy. Work to develop educational, social, business promotion and trade links with Delhi. Expand Canada-India foreign direct investment. Recognize the moral authority of the largest democracy, by supporting India's bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council -- where China is already ensconced. And, without delay, accelerate progress on these fronts by ensuring that the next passage to India has the prime minister, finance minister and other ministers on board.

India is the future that Canada should be part of. India is one boat Mr. Harper's ministers shouldn't miss.

David Harris is a lawyer, senior fellow for national security at the Canadian Coalition for Democracies (www.canadiancoalition.com), and former Canadian Security Intelligence Service chief of strategic planning. He is counsel to the CCD, which is intervening in the Air India Inquiry.

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