3 questions with Rana Mitter

Rana Mitter on India, China and the West's decline

Rana Mitter is Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China at Oxford University. He is also a regular presenter of Night Waves and contributor to The Financial Times, History Today, and the London Review of Books.


The US is still China's main competitor, but might we see India take up this role in the coming decades as China overreaches itself? Or perhaps the two will team up to form a pan-Asian bloc?

No, I don’t think so – in either case. India aspires to become a regional leader, but a combination of geography and self-defined roles will hold it back for a long time. I don’t see this as a problem, however, as it leaves India to focus on what it does best, which is setting a global example instead of seeking to exercise influence elsewhere.

As for China overreaching itself and India passing China, it’s possible. In India, their next phase of growth is based on services, where India seeks to add value. That’s also where China is looking to go next, but it depends on whether or not they can create a world-class service sector. The jury’s definitely out on that at the moment.

Finally, I don’t see a pan-Asian bloc happening. China and India have radically different views of the world – India looks inward, while China is trying to shape both a regional and global role, but they’re certainly looking outward.

In 2013, fears of an impending Chinese financial crisis began to spread. If China's monumental credit bubble bursts, will this pave the way for a return to American hegemony? After all, the West created and still largely controls a network of global institutions, not to mention its seemingly unbreakable cultural grip on the world.

In the first place, I think it’s a mistake to expect the credit bubble to burst in China. Credit management has already started and therefore it is unlikely we’re looking at a major financial crisis, but rather the slowing of financial growth. My view is that China and America will have a major role in the Pacific region for decades to come – if anything it’s a more of a question about America, rather than China.

With respect to these “global institutions”, we’ve largely forgotten that they were not strictly Western creations. India, for example, had a more significant role in creating human rights than we realise, particularly by way of Maghar’s associations with Nehru. The ideas that created these institutions were never exclusively Western, and, if anything, are becoming increasingly less so.

As to the cultural grip of the West, I’m not sure that the makers of Bollywood movies, Latin American football teams, or South Korean soaps would agree with you!

Are we wrong to focus our conversations about global power on India, China and the US? Where do Brazil and Russia fit in to the picture? Will we see an increasingly multipolar world in the 21st Century?

No, I don’t think so. It’s clear that there are certain power poles in the world, and China and the US will continue to be more significant than India and Brazil. Russia has a great deal of local significance, though, of course, as we’re seeing lately in the news, it can still make an impact on the global stage. As a historian, I feel that we need to keep our eyes on the horizon – not looking so much to the next generation, but to the generation after that.


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