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India must get its act together now to compete with China in post-Covid world: Thomas Friedman

At ThePrint's Off The Cuff, American author-journalist Friedman also said PM Modi deserved a 'decent grade' for quickly imposing the lockdown in India.

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New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi was quick to order a national lockdown, which was not easy but it did stop the novel coronavirus from spreading quickly, and for that, he deserves a “decent grade” compared to other world leaders, Thomas Friedman, New York Times columnist and author, said Monday.

“Seems to me that Modi has been more effective than not. And the virus has not spread as much in India at the speed, scope and scale I would have expected but that may be for epidemiological reasons, climate reasons, latitudinal reasons, I don’t know. But for now Modi deserves a decent grade,” Friedman said at a digital Off The Cuff conversation with ThePrint’s Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta.

Lauding Modi’s “quick” move to order a national lockdown, Friedman said it was “not easy in a country like India where so many people live in very tense conditions and at such a high poverty rate in rural areas where just washing your hands in clean water regularly, let alone social distancing, is not easy”.

Also read: Modi govt could allow more relaxations after 17 May, but lockdown unlikely to be lifted

India’s pluralism ‘blessing for the world’

Author of the book The World is Flat, Friedman went on to say India is regarded and watched around the world for its pluralism and democracy.

“I am a huge sucker for India. I think a country with 1.3 billion people, speaking a hundred different languages, having free and fair elections every five years, is a miracle and if India were like Syria today, the whole world would be a different place,” he said, adding that India’s pluralism and democracy are a “blessing for the world”.

“And it must cherish that, it must revere it and it must preserve it. Because India’s pluralism and basic democratic impulses is vital for India’s success and is vital for the world’s success. It must respect it, cherish it and preserve it for India’s sake and the world’s sake. But I see some dangers, lately … India’s pluralism and its democracy is the underlying keys to all its success,” he cautioned.

Comparatively, according to him, Chinese President Xi Jinping “missed” and “failed to understand” what was going on in Wuhan, the place from where the virus reportedly originated, and “failed to respond both domestically and globally with the speed he should have and with the transparency he should have”.

But the columnist also said Xi recovered after a few weeks and then used the Chinese system to a “great effect at home to curtail the spread of the virus”.

However, China is now courting trouble by trying to bully the world into not demanding a transparent investigation into where the virus came from, according to Friedman.

Also read: From Modi to Johnson, leaders are using the pandemic to suppress their critics

‘China already back at work, India must too’

On the issue of India competing with China on global value chains in a post-Covid world, Friedman said New Delhi must “be very careful” even as global firms look to shift their base out of Beijing.

“China is already back at work… China has got its supply chains back up… And looks even more (as a) reliable partner because they’ve been able to work their way through a pandemic. So I would be very careful in predicting that we don’t need to depend on China anymore,” he said, adding global companies might find themselves even more dependent on China in six months because countries like the US and India are still in a “roiling mess”.

For India to compete with or replace China in global supply chains, Friedman added, New Delhi has to act now.

“If India has hopes of supplanting China in some markets in terms of supply chain, it’s going to really have its act together right now in order to do that,” he said.

As far as basic raw materials for medicines go, there could be a shifting of supply chains back home from China as countries plan to create more and more vaccines and drugs.

“So I’d be very careful about making any predictions that China is finished and this is America or India’s moment. We all have to perform now. The world is watching,” he said.

Also read: India should use damaged Brand China, not bash it over Covid like US and Germany

US and the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement

Questioning US President Donald Trump’s move to walk out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement and taking on China alone in a trade war, Friedman said America should have signed it and brought the Asia-Pacific countries to its side and then dealt with Beijing unitedly.

“Trump administration has been moronic when it comes to dealing with China… They should (have) signed the Trans-Pacific trade agreement (and) brought together 40 per cent of global GDP under American trade rules around the Pacific without China. Then gone to India and Europe and joined them and then hold the Chinese for a negotiation where it would’ve been the world versus China,” he said.

In 2017, the US had walked out of the 12-nation trade deal called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which was the brainchild of Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama.

The mega trade deal covered 40 per cent of the world’s economy and was negotiated in 2015 by nations such as the US, Japan, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Mexico.

Also read: In 2020, India & US must collaborate in WTO and beyond to counter China’s trade practices

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  1. Odds of it getting its act together is very slim. It is too busy in Religiosity stuff, has 92 paid holidays in a year, has top .1% ruling the country.

    • Isn’t it time to think differently and get our act together for a new innings? Why be negative?

  2. India’s pluralism / democracy is the underlying key to its success … That is an idea we need to wrap our heads around. Very different from the cliched formulation that China is far ahead because it is not shackled by democracy, its “ strong “ leaders can take “ bold “ decisions.

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