I have spent the last week traveling through two similar, yet very different countries. After leaving southern Sudan, I traveled to Bhutan and India. Bhutan is a kingdom that has just transitioned into a democracy. It is a small country of 750,000 people, about the size of Switzerland. India is the sub-continent that will most likely surpass China in population. Currently, about 1.3 billion people live in India. I travel to understand the world better and to get other cultures’ perspectives on the United States.
Bhutan was a closed community, and until fairly recently the only way to see it was by invitation. It is slowly joining the modern world. In 2000, its government began allowing television to be broadcast in the country. The fourth king of Bhutan abdicated in favor of his son so that the country could transition from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy. Bhutan is a member of the United Nations, but, in an attempt to keep from angering China, it has chosen not to have ambassadorial exchange with any of the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.
My junior high school geography teacher was way ahead of the author of “Guns, Germs and Steel,” as he was a firm believer that geography was destiny. He was certainly right when it comes to India and Bhutan. As our guide led us to a beautiful view of exquisite mountains, he pointed out that the tallest of the mountains was what separated Bhutan from Tibet. Tibet was taken over by China in the late 1940s and the Dalai Lama escaped from Tibet in 1959. One glimpse of the beautiful mountains and it is clear that Bhutan could be overrun in a nanosecond.
Bhutan rests between China and India. It is to India’s advantage to protect Bhutan, which is why the Indian army patrols the border between China and Bhutan. America does a ton of business with China, but between its human rights record, its Taiwan issue and its refusal to let the Tibetan people rule their own country, the Chinese are not exactly the most popular people in Bhutan and India.
Most of the folks I spoke with in both countries have the same views as people in the United States. They watch American television on their satellite dishes, and they see the same news we see at the same time we see it. When news broke last week of the shootings at Fort Hood, the people in Bhutan and India got the news as people in the U.S. did. Even the Indian language stations were showing video instantaneously. Same view, same pictures, but very different views on what needs to happen for the world to improve.
Russia’s leader, Vladimir Putin, does not concern them. India trades with Russia and has a good relationship with them. China, on the other hand, is a different story. Most people who engaged in conversation with me had dire warnings for the United States, and they all said roughly the same thing:
Get your debt down. All were aware that the sizable debt that the United States has taken on has compromised our policy objectives. It is hard to take on China on Tibet or human rights when America is owned by China to the tune of at least $1 trillion. The Federal Reserve chairman’s advice for healing the U.S. economy is to make more consumers out of the Chinese. If that is the solution for solving our job crisis, then maybe I should teach economics. It is scary to me that this is what our leadership thinks will pull us out of the current mess. Moreover, it is not going to happen at a fast enough rate to change our balance of trade and reverse our economy.
Stop your consumption of oil. India gets hydropower from Bhutan and is looking to solar and other alternatives. Oil makes the U.S. dependent on Middle East countries, and the people I talked to view such dependency as fueling not just Americans’ cars, but terrorism in their region of the world. One Indian businessman I spoke with said our reliance on foreign oil was the reason for us getting involved in “silly wars that kill American young people.”
Conserve your resources. With the burgeoning world population needing food and water as well as energy, America is viewed as being wasteful. With manufacturing jobs leaving the United States for poorer countries, most people I talked with saw the U.S. as a nation of spendthrifts who will use up more than our fair share of the world’s resources, in the process going bankrupt.
Don’t rely on one country to do your manufacturing. China has the United States’ head in a vise, but if American companies spread manufacturing to 20 or more countries around the globe, China would not have the power to control currency and the economic future of the United States.
The bottom line, as one businessman said to me, is America is expecting to live the lifestyle we have grown accustomed to by writing IOUs. But, he added, such a lifestyle will prove to be unsustainable.
I couldn’t have said it better myself.