One of the positive trends in India’s think tank community in the past few years is the emergence of institutes that aim to study China. Last week, journalist Nitin Gokhale reported that the ministry of external affairs has set up a new think tank that includes members from intelligence, defence, and trade. The higher education system has invested in setting up a few new centres that will observe and analyse China from various perspectives and purposes. This ought to have started at least a decade ago, but better late than never.
Many educated Indians can name at least half a dozen states of the United States and their respective capitals. Bengaluru and Hyderabad are likely to score higher on this test. However, even among the more informed Indians, it is hard to find people who can name a few Chinese provinces. Similarly, a lot of Indians know excruciating details about the US political system, can identify US administration officials, senators, and governors. But few will know the name of a third Chinese leader after President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang. Language, openness, and greater people-to-people interaction are perhaps responsible for this asymmetry, but it is astonishing – and a matter of concern – that an average well-informed Indian knows relatively little about the big neighbour to our north. Our knowledge of China is dangerously inverse to the country’s importance to us.