My family and I have just arrived in Tamil Nadu, or Tamil Land. We are here for January—the first of a five month study tour across India and China.
If Tamil Land were its own country, it would be the 19th largest in the world—it’s 72 million people ranking just behind Turkey and just ahead of Thailand and Iran. It is bigger than France, the UK or Italy, and it is twice the size of California.
As India’s fast-growing economy has exploded on to the world scene, Tamil Land is often forgotten by the western press. Its capital city, Chennai, is generally ignored. People have to be reminded that it was previously known as the British colonial city of Madras. A city of a mere 9 million people, it is overshadowed by high-politics New Delhi, high-finance Mumbai, high-tech Bangalore and Hyderabad, and high-poverty Kolkata.
Tamil Land is the slow and steady industrial giant of India—fourth largest in GDP and in per capita GDP. Ford makes cars, Caterpillar assembles trucks, and high tech giants Infosys and Cognizant have major operations here.
Tamil Land is urbanized and urbane, with an 80 percent literacy rate—quite high by Indian standards. It also has a large Christian population, as early as the first century, with the local Catholic, Syrian Orthodox, and Anglican communities all claiming the legacy of the Apostle Thomas, who is said to have been martyred in Chennai.
If Tamil Land were an independent nation, it might have a foreign policy very different from the rest of India’s. And for that reason, it is the place I chose to begin my study tour.
Over the next five months, I hope to learn and describe for American policy-makers how the states and provinces of India and China affect—or do not affect—their foreign policies. Call them the “Rising Power Unions.”
China and India are at least three times the size of the United States and EU, and each has around thirty provinces/states. Both countries very much are “unions”—with all the ups and downs that that brings to policy-making. They span multiple languages, and border on a variety of regions. Yet few western diplomats have a basic map of how those instruments work in China and India, not to mention how they come together to produce an orchestrated sound.
To give a glimpse of this, I’ll focus on three pressing global matters: global trade, climate change, and nuclear non-proliferation. Right now, I have a lot of questions and few answers. Obviously, I want to understand how the process works of translating local ideas and interests into national policy. I also want to sketch some of the outcomes that habitually happens. But I also want to get to know the personalities and the parties, the corporations and the coalitions, the NGOs and the unrepresented.
And hopefully, in the end, I will have some observations about how the United States and EU should think about these emerging powers. What is too much to expect of these emerging giants? But also, where are the opportunities for greater collaboration and cooperation with them?
I think some people are overreacting — the people who say, oh this is the end of the U.S.-China relationship as we know it. That’s not necessarily true. They could be lenient to Trump and treat Taiwan differently. We need to know a lot more and we shouldn’t pre-judge the situation but we shouldn’t trivialize it either.