Geopolitical Notes From India
M D Nalapat
THE past few days have been spent on the South Pacific island of Hainan, a tropical province that boasts the highest life expectancy in China. There are towns where it is routine for individuals to live beyond 90 years, because of the abundance of oxygen in the atmosphere. The situation is the opposite of that found in Lhasa, where the level of oxygen in the air is low, leading to increased difficulty in making physical effort for those unused to such conditions. However, inhabitants of this cleanest of cities find it no problem to move around, used as they are to low levels of oxygen. The largest city in Hainan, Sanya, has a climate the opposite not only of Lhasa but cities in northern China, which too get very cold in winter. The consequence is that several individuals from such provinces have migrated to cities in Hainan and are slowly forming the majority population there. There are also large numbers of short-term visitors, especially during winter, though even when this columnist was on the island, hundreds of tourists from all parts of China were present on the island. Several were young couples holding their little children.
Although mainstream Chinese nationals are now allowed to have two children (while the minorities within the country have from the start been allowed to have more children if they wish) , several have only a single child, as the cost of education is very steep in China, and they would like to ensure the best (and therefore expensive) education for their children. Such One Child families ensure that the little ones get treated the way princes and princesses are, with grandparents especially devoting substantial time to their grandchildren. China is facing a demographic problem in the future because of the increasing share of older people in the population when compared to Pakistan and India, which have much younger median populations. Japan is in an even more difficult situation, with millions of very old citizens. Which is probably the reason why that country is paying so much attention to Artificial Intelligence and to robotics, both fields that are also under intensive development in China.
Sanya’s Mangrove Hotel is among the most modern this columnist has stayed in. The shape of the multi-storied building resembles a tropical leaf, and electronic controls are in every room. Lights come on when a guest approaches a particular area and gets switched off when he or she leaves, all automatically. As is the case with other hotels, there are vast and leafy grounds ideal for walks. The Chinese Communist Party seeks to develop Hainan as an international tourist paradise on the lines of Hawaii, and many hotels have multinational staff. In the Intercontinental hotel, several of the staff come from Nepal, a country known for its courtesy and charm. The island hosts the Boat Forum each year, and the facilities built for this once in a year global conference are on a scale that is now becoming commonplace in China. The conference rooms and places of stay have been built on a grand scale, and apart from the conference period (when the premises are sealed off for reasons of security),tourists are welcome to come into the hall and even the podium, where several take photographs of themselves sitting on the chairs used by VVIPs, including some of the world’s top leaders when they come for the Boat Forum, China’s answer to Davos. Unlike Davos, Boao has warm rather than icy weather, not to mention a profusion of trees and beaches. Apart from Chinese, Russians too love the island, perhaps because the weather is so unlike that in Siberia. Visitors from Russia almost always congregate in a particular part of the island,known by every one of its inhabitants as the “Russia Corner”, having a good time in the company of others from Russia. The food, music and atmosphere – everything in fact but for the weather – is Russian, with celebrations reminiscent of those parts of the beaches of Goa in India where too Russians congregate in preference to other zones.
Hainan is being declared a tourist zone, with over 50 coun tries being given visa-free access to the province. The expectation is that in the next few years, hundreds of thousands of international visitors will ensure that the local economy booms. At present, tropical fruits are the main industry. Not surprisingly, there is a high speed railway running across the island that links the main centres,including the capital, Haikou. There is also a road network spanning the province, but railroads have a special charm. It is possible to relax in a carriage enjoying a book or just gazing at the lush vegetation outside in a way not always possible while travelling by car. The island is also home to the South China fleet of the Peoples Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), although it must be said that the extensive military facilities located on Hainan are located in locations that are inconspicuous, and that it is rare indeed to see an individual in military uniform when visiting Hainan as a tourist.
Although Hainan has an airport with modern facilities, another is being built to cater to international visitors. It would seem that in the years to come, it will not only be during the Boat Forum deliberations that large numbers of foreign guests come to the beautiful island of Hainan. Chinese authorities have big plans for the island,and they have accelerated their drive to ensure that these be implemented. Hopefully the many high rise buildings and facilities sprouting on the island will not have the deadly effect on the environment that human habitation has in many other locations, but that Hainan will remain an island paradise for the world to enjoy.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.