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India’s blackout, seen from China

India, the world’s largest democracy, suffered its worst blackout in history this week, leaving more than 600 million people without power. To authoritarian and mostly stable China, chaotic India has long been exhibit A in the need for a strong central government: corrupt demagogues leading major states, an armed Maoist rebellion has led to the ...

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India, the world’s largest democracy, suffered its worst blackout in history this week, leaving more than 600 million people without power. To authoritarian and mostly stable China, chaotic India has long been exhibit A in the need for a strong central government: corrupt demagogues leading major states, an armed Maoist rebellion has led to the deaths of thousands of people; some see casualty between situations like these and India’s GDP remaining less than thirty percent that of China’s.

So it was surprising to see China’s often combative state media coverage focus more on the positive. While some stories looked at the nightmare of losing power, more seemed to focus on what China could learn from this disaster: "India’s Big Power Outage Sparks a Warning: State Grid Corporation of China [The nations’ largest power company] Is Deploying Safety Checks," read a headline from the website of Central People’s Broadcaster, a state TV station. "Roundup: Analysis of Investment Opportunities From India Power Collapse" was the headline of a story on the popular Sina web portal. The English language edition of Global Times, a nationalistic broadsheet, suggests China can "use the incident to reflect on their own problems" of development. The negative coverage seems more frequent regarding India’s moves in the South China Sea; in response to an announcement that India’s state-run Oil & National Gas Corporation would continue working with Vietnam to invest in explorations in the South China Sea, the website of the Communist Party mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, featured a blog post titled, "Why Does India Often Pet the Tiger’s Butt?" The expression in Chinese means to provoke that which shouldn’t be provoked. 

Another lesson from this coverage: American media doesn’t have a monopoly on animal puns when writing about China. 

Isaac Stone Fish is a journalist and senior fellow at the Asia Society’s Center on U.S-China Relations. He is on sabbatical from Foreign Policy Magazine. @isaacstonefish

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