More than a billion people. An ascendant middle class. Rapid growth with dire environmental consequences. Rising importance in global security.
As border countries with divergent histories, India and China have always had their differences, but the world’s two most populous nations in modern times also share a surprising number of similarities that could breed collaborative approaches to global problems, speakers said at Kennesaw State University’s inaugural Chindia Summit March 9.
And for the United States, which enjoys important ties with both, the extent of their cooperation will have major consequences, ranging from favorable to challenging.
No discussion on climate change, for instance, can ignore the role of “Chindia,” both developing nations working to reconcile the economic growth imperatives of their massive populations with a world that is now fully aware of the harm greenhouse gases cause.
While neither comes close to having the average American’s carbon footprint, they’re both major contributors to climate change and victims of it, experts said at the event organized by the India China America Institute.
“India’s in the unenviable position, China to a lesser extent, of being very high on both lists,” said Daniel Rochberg, chief strategy officer of the Climate@Emory Initiative. Delhi is the most polluted city of the world, a list on which 13 of the top 25 are in India. Meanwhile, China — known for the suffocating smog of its capital city, Beijing — is the world’s largest car market and has overtaken the U.S. in terms of emissions spewed overall.
Still, they can both point to meaningful action to safeguard the planet as their standards of living rise. India’s new government has quintupled its already ambitious solar power goals, hoping to generate 100,000 megawatts by 2020. And it has challenged entrepreneurs and innovators to come up with super-efficient air conditioners, which as a product category alone could suck up more power in 2030 than all of India takes today, Mr. Rochberg said, noting that India could be a “laboratory” for energy solutions.
China, which meanwhile, has invested heavily in wind and solar energy, announced plans to shut down 1,200 coal mines, agreed with the U.S. to reach peak emissions by 2030 and tested a carbon trading system.
“China is a global leader in climate change in a way that’s uprising to many people,” said Eri Saikawa, assistant professor of environmental sciences at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health.
The two economies are growing more intertwined economically as well, even as they seem to occupy different sides of the playing field on Asian security.
Some $20 billion in deals were announced when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited the country in 2014, even as they dealt with border standoff. China will help India with its direst infrastructure needs in the five-year plan, building industrial zones in two states. Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi, telecommunications giant Huawei and heavy equipment manufacturer Sany, among many others, make big bets on the country. Sany, which has a major plant in Georgia, is pouring $3 billion into Indian renewable energy projects. India has also joined the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
“Chinese are investing in India left and right in different industries,” said Henry Yu, a longtime Atlanta banker and the executive director of the Asian Investors Consortium.
Both countries are becoming important investors in the Southeast U.S., with their big conglomerates often using acquisitions to gain brand equity or market share. Chinese computer and smartphone giant Lenovo bought IBM’s computer business in North Carolina, while Haier, which has a refrigerator factory in South Carolina, just purchased GE’s appliance unit for $5.4 billion. Volvo — the Swedish car maker owned by China’s Geely Automotive — is putting an auto plant in South Carolina in the coming years. Indian acquisitions in Georgia include Novelis and Columbian Chemicals.
South Carolina has attracted more than 20 Chinese companies and six Indian firms, according to its investment figures. The state recently shifted its strategy in China, putting three people on the ground in its Shanghai office and keeping a Mandarin speaker on staff in Columbia, the capital. It also opened an office in Delhi in 2014 during a visit of Gov. Nikki Haley, who has Indian ancestry. Investment recruiters have been visiting a few times a year since then.
“We have a long ways to go in both of those countries but we feel that we’re really building on those relationships,” said Ford Graham, director of international strategy, said at the summit.
Of course, despite all the similarities, China and India also diverge in a few pretty significant ways. On demographics, India is young while China is aging. On democracy: India has it; China doesn’t. And then there’s the exiled Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan leader who lives in Dharamsala, India.
But, as they grow closer, experts say the U.S. can benefit from their mutual growth.
The event included panels on climate change, globalization of Chinese and Indian companies, the role of their diaspora communities and soft power.
For more information and to see the full list of speakers, click here.