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Whose century will it be?

Posted on the February 2nd, 2010

Two countries that have the demographic and economic potential to own this century, so to speak, are China and India, according to some analysts. Among other reasons, both nations already have massive populations that continue to grow at turbo speed.

In a book review last month, however, Brussels-based scholar Jonathan Holslag questions the optimism of one of the China-India enthusiasts. The particular book he writes about is “Gravity Shift: How Asia’s New Economic Powerhouses Will Shape the Twenty-First Century” by Wendy Dobson. Professor Dobson is Co-director of the Institute for International Business at the University of Toronto.

Offering an overview of the book, Holslag begins with praise:

Dobson summarizes the challenges facing both countries as each continues its economic transition, enriching her discussion by clarifying the role of institutions. She gives a very transparent overview of the differences between the two nations’ economies in terms of governance. China excels in stability, regulatory capacity and effectiveness, while India leads in accountability and the rule of law. Her analysis is embedded in a rich social and historical context that focuses on the imperial bureaucracy in China, the caste system in India and the colonial legacies in both countries.

Holslag soon, however, spots some gray clouds he insists are unobserved in Dobson’s forecast:

The question is, of course, whether and how China and India will pull themselves out of their vast socioeconomic and political problems. Dobson rightly suggests that more reforms are necessary, but how realistic is it to expect they will occur?

And he goes to elaborate in detail his differing perspective. Holslag’s review is titled “The Myth of Chindia” (Literary Review of Canada, Jan 1, 2010).

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