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'India's power is infinite'
Ramananda Sengupta in Mumbai
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March 20, 2006 09:14 IST
Last Updated: March 20, 2006 12:06 IST

China's Commerce Minister Bo Xilai made all the right noises at the 16th Asian Corporate Conference organised by the Asia Society, the Confederation of Indian Industry and The Wall Street Journal Asia in Mumbai on Sunday morning.

Bo, delivering the keynote address on 'China India bilateral economic cooperation' spoke at length about strengths and weaknesses of both nations, and underscored the fact that the two ancient civilisations had ties that stretched back over 2,500 years.

According to Bo, despite the hype about China's economic growth, his country would remain a developing nation for the next 50 years. This was the time required for the benefits of economic progress to reach the vast swathes of the western region of China, he said.

China's per capita GDP ($1,700) was barely one-20th that of Japan, he said, noting that more than 200 million people in his country lived on less than a dollar a day.

China and India should learn from each other, said Bo, who led a delegation of more than 200 top Chinese business leaders to the conference. Twentyeight years ago, when Deng Xiaoping opened up the Chinese economy, there were deep misgivings in Chinese society, he said. But today, Deng's vision had paid off.

India and China had long historical ties, he said, citing the travels of Chinese scholar Huien Tsang, who visited India in the 7th century, and returned to China after 12 years with fabulous tales about the country. That long ago, India was "already considered a heaven, a paradise," by the Chinese, he said.

"India's power is infinite, " he said, and claimed it was only when India and China realised their true potential of growth and cooperation that the world would see the rise of the Asian century.

India, he said, enjoyed two distinct advantages over China. One was the familiarity with the English language (Bo spoke in Chinese, though he speaks English fluently) and the other a growing population of young people. While China's one child policy had already led to the greying of the country's population, India's population policy ensured that it had a very young workforce.

While India could learn and benefit from China's experience in infrastructure development, China could benefit from the Indian expertise in information technology, software development, education best practices in areas like the manufacturing sector, he said.

It was only when Mary E Kissel, the editorial page editor at The Wall Street Journal Asia asked during the question and answer session that followed his speech if China could not learn from the rule of law and democracy in India that Bo deviated from the script.

"Democracy is a process, and not the ultimate goal," he thundered. China's main emphasis was to raise the standard of living of its people, to reduce the poverty level.

Urging the audience to take a "pragmatic look" at democracy, he said democracy was defined differently by the developed and the developing countries.

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