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Adelaide Festival of Ideas: Elephants & Dragons « Previous | |Next »
July 6, 2007

The first event of the 2007 Adelaide Festival of Ideas took place last night at Elder Hall. It was entitled The Elephant and the Dragon. Kerryn Goldsworthy's insightful comments are here. It was an interesting and broad ranging opening session with a lot of different threads woven together. Radio Adelaide has podcasts The Australian makes no reference to the Festival---an indication of its unease with ideas?

The session was about the global economy, the interdependency of Australia with India and China, the formation of a multipolar world, and national security implications for an Australia aligned with the US in containing China but reliant on trading with China for its prosperity. Peter Mares from the ABC's National Interest gave the session its theme with a succinct question: what role do China and India play in shaping our destiny.

Joseph Cheng took the affirmative. There will be a multipolar world by 2050 with China going capital intensive and India taking the manufacturing route.This kind of development means more raw materials sourced from Quarry Australia. China will play a large role in the global economy through its foreign exchange reserves and overseas investment and will place pressure on the US to address its twin budget deficits.

Ramachandra Guha approached the question from a historical perspective of the British colonial discourse holding that India would never be a democracy as it would collapse into anarchy and dictatorship from internal tensions and conflicts. today the discourse has changed to India being a superpower, which has more appeal to the Indian political class, who envision India as an imperial power. Guha argues that the Indian political class does not have the capacity to be an imperial class and that it will just muddle along. Muddle because the effect of globalization is contradictory---a high tech Bangalore booms whilst the Indian poor in the regions are disempowered.

Robin Jeffrey argued that India can show the way for the world state system in a complex and diverse world. His argument was by analogy India is a complex and diverse nation state, that accommodates huge language and religious differences. The federal system is the key to this success with a strong centre underpinned by a public philosophy of Ghandism. The multi polar world, with its different langauges and religions, needs a strong centre and this will probably come from the US, China, Russia India as a concert of power holding differences together.

Jeffrey confirmed Guha's thesis that India will just muddle along in terms of handling its diversity and the tensions between economic growth and environmental protection.

Colin Ryan was the most pessimistic or sceptical. She questioned the myth of the transfer of power from the West to the East since despite the new factories China doesn't have the necessary infrastructure to be a economic superpower. It has no global companies, it is much poorer than the US, investment banks are underdeveloped, hedge funds nonexistent, and there is no rule of law.

In geo-strategic terms of the tensions associated with a balance of power in the world of nations the US will not allow the China to become a superpower, China will be forced to deal with the way its economic effects global warming. India, Japan and Russia will not kowtow to China. What is happening is the containment of China by India, Japan, Australia and the US.

Philippe Legrain also adopted a sceptical tone as argued that we have no idea what will happen by 2050. It observed that the modernization of China was similar to that of Britain in the 19th century in that there was a massive movement from agriculture to manufacturing ad huge transfer of the population from the countryside to the cities. With India there is a global movement of people to Silicon Valley in the US and then back to India to set by businesses in Bangalore. Suprisingly, Marx's name was never mentioned. Why so?

One of the implications from these "briefings" to us citizens that was drawn out in the subsequent conversation was amongst the speakers that the populations of China and India will not attain western standards of living. They are already having to confront the environmental consequences of rapid economic growth, especially China; as this growth, with its global competition for natural resources, is killing people and laying waste to the environment Though the Chinese Communist Party at the central level are beginning to address, it is not happening in the provinces where the corruption is deeply embedded. It was held that corruption is the greatest obstacle to ensuring a better environment.

And inequality? Doesn't that drive economic growth at the expense of the environment? It was stated that Australia is currently bedazzled by China and neglects India. Maybe Australia, as a middle ranking power, can persuade China to improve its human rights and climate change record. However, we in SA are planning to sell lots of uranium to China and India to ensure our prosperity. Yet no one mentioned nuclear proliferation even though Australia is becoming a part of the US's defensive shield against China.

The Adelaide Review has a background article that allows Robin Jeffrey and Paul Monk to voice their views.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:01 AM |