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Book Review: Science and Technology in China


Reform and perform, or else deform
KS NARAYANAN | New Delhi, September 6, 2013 12:05
Tags : Science and Technology in China | Book Review |

Every passing day, the two Asian giants, China and India, are compared on several parameters in the public discourse in this country. Such comparisons range from the question of when the two nations got freedom from colonial and imperial powers in the late 40s to their economy, military might and influence in their neighbourhood.

However, the core factors that move and steer these two nations are often missing in this discourse. One such factor is the big role played by science and technology, which propels the economy ahead and ensures sustained progress. This is what Science and Technology in China: Implications and Lessons for India, edited by former foreign secretary M Rasgotra, explores.

Dedicating the book to the first Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru, who saw the role of science and technology in transforming India, Rasgotra’s 11-page introduction would be a sweet reminder to a great galaxy of Oxbridge educated policy makers who have been trapped in a decision paralysis for a long time now. It would equally enrich and widen readers’ perspective as to why India still stagnates.

As China is our largest and most powerful neighbour, we need to know China better. For this India needs its own unbiased literature devoid of any Western prejudices regarding China. This book has emerged as a result of a series of seminars organised by the leading private think tank, Observer Research Foundation.

Each of the eight chapters in the book has been authored either by a top policy maker, diplomat or technocrat. For instance, the first chapter that dwells on the title of the book has been written by V S Ramamurthy, a well-known nuclear scientist, while Prof UR Rao, former chairman of Indian Space Research Organisation, writes on ‘China on Space’.

Comparing strides achieved by China, Rasgotra finds India wanting in many sectors. “Due to the absence of an imaginative policy to integrate science, technology, R&D, innovation and industry for a clear national objective, even the capacities created earlier were allowed to stagnate,” he writes.

“Nehru’s successors did not build sufficiently on his legacy...Unlike China, in India industry and science & technology operate in their separate domains. There is a policy lacuna in this domain which needs to be addressed. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government has adopted a manufacturing policy in 2011, but a proper technology policy is still missing,” Rasgotra adds.

Some hard lessons from the book for India include the necessity for creating an internationally competitive, broad based, high tech manufacturing; adopting reverse engineering; and developing hard and soft capabilities.

With its narrow focus on software and services, IT development in India is completely flawed. As a result, about 90 per cent of India’s telecommunications and IT hardware is imported. The book also calls for restructuring of state enterprises, re-engineering government structures and close civil-military integration as in China that can spur technological advances.

Though the book is a little dry with a preponderance of facts and figures as the chapters have been contributed by different experts, it would be prudent to read Chapter 7 authored by Prof Ashok Parthasarathi. Prof Parthasarathi has analysed the science, technology and its commercial applications in a half dozen sectors in China and compares it with the development in India.

Of course the book does not suggest that everything that China does is fine. For instance, it points out how several state electricity boards in India cancelled orders from Chinese companies after they faced equipment interruptions and failure and returned to our own Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited whose turbine and generators were far more reliable in comparison!

Questions may be raised about the relevance of the Chinese model for India. Of course, sceptics will point out that Chinese model is ‘top-down’ and ‘state driven’, its poor quality if products and copycatting. In her paper, The Growing Science and Technology Gap with China, Smita Purushottam, a diplomat, acknowledges this and calls for learning from other models as well.

Renowned economist and China observer Jonathan Anderson believes there are reasons why India will fade away and that there are no comparisons between India and China. No wonder smaller players like Vietnam, Cambodia and Bangladesh have replaced China in traditional sectors like textiles, leather and shoes, among others, while India with its teeming millions has been unable to compete.

Without reforms and technological advances not only will India’s position in the comity of nations be challenged, its autonomy and the welfare of its citizens will also be threatened.


Author: M.K. Rasgotra

Edition: Hardcover

ISBN: 978-81-321-1312-6

Pages: 255

Price: Rs. 795

Publisher: Sage

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Posted By: Dr.A.Jagadeesh | Nellore(AP),India | November 24th 2013 | 11:11
Excellent book. Comparison between China and India in S & T well brought out.Congratulations the author. Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017