China and India Suddenly Vulnerable
The speed with which clouds of economic gloom and even despair have gathered over the global economy has been startling everywhere. But the change has been especially sudden in the world’s two most populous countries: China and India. Until quite recently, the world’s fastest-growing big economies both felt themselves largely immune from the contagion afflicting the rich world. Optimists even hoped that these huge emerging markets might provide the engines that could pull the world out of recession. Now some fear the reverse: that the global downturn is going to drag China and India down with it, bringing massive unemployment to two countries that are, for all their success, still poor—India is home to some two-fifths of the world’s malnourished children.
The pessimism may be overdone. These are still the most dynamic parts of the world economy. But both countries face daunting economic and political difficulties. In India’s case, its newly positive self-image has suffered a double blow: from the economic buffeting, and from the bullets of the terrorists who attacked Mumbai last month. As our special report makes clear, India’s recent self-confidence had two roots. One was a sustained spurt in economic growth to a five-year annual average of 8.8%. The other was the concomitant rise in India’s global stature and influence. No longer, its politicians gloated, was India “hyphenated” with Pakistan as one half of a potential nuclear maelstrom. Rather it had become part of “Chindia”—a fast-growing success story.