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#5123, 10 September 2016
 

Fragile States Index 2016

China and the FSI: Decennary Trends, 2007-2016
Chao Xie
Doctoral Candidate, Department of International Relations, Tsinghua University, Beijing
 

The Fund for Peace has released its twelfth annual Fragile States Index (FSI). As with previous editions, it presents yearly scores and rankings based on the levels of stability and pressures each state faces.. However, the changes in a year are hardly of any observable significance, especially for those not-so-fragile states, and even for the fragile ones, the situation should be considered in longer terms so as to acquire a more accurate understanding. What makes this year’s report more useful is an included report on decade trends over 2007-2016. With the range of observation extended, one can take a deeper look into the data to see into FSI’s and see how this world has changed over the last ten years, even though it might just provide a partial or biased representation of broad trends related to some countries, for instance, China and India.

First, light will be shed on the economic indicators. As per the FSI design, the parameters of scoring economic growth are supposed to influence each other in the FSI scoring system because for developing countries, rapid economic growth will inevitably mean a minus in Poverty and Economic Decline but a plus in Uneven Economic Development. In 2007, before the subprime mortgage crisis dragged the world financial markets into turbulence, the world was cheering emerging markets that were set to become new drivers of the world economy. China and India are on the anticipation list, and for this decade they are two leading states in terms of economic growth but still on the road to balancing rural and urban development and easing tensions between the richest 10 per cent and the poorest (it must be noted that FSI chose the 10 per cent gauge over 5 per cent which is more favourable to developed countries). Despite all their similarities in other areas, the FSI points for China and India should be a down trend and the instinct is that their general situation is becoming better and better. But the final scores are divided. China appears to have experienced significantly greater improvement between 2007-2016 than India, which gets +8.8 in a worsening trend. This is of course not a sound assessment and their ranking should be somewhat nearer to each other.

Social indicators with double weightage may present a bigger picture. In the past decade, both the countries have had challenges on aspects of Refugees and IDPs and Group Grievance. Tension and violence between ethnic groups exists in both countries. China is trying to calm its north western frontier; the violence in Northeast India and J&K does not see a prospect of settling down in the coming years either. Despite all the challenges, a reasonable estimate is that no significant changes have occurred, and the change will be even less significant when starting the calculation from 2007. Taking a step back to assess the Index, should such challenges add more points to their fragility, their cores being about the same in these categories?

In the category of Demographic Pressure, the FSI implies that population growth is a bad thing as the description about it is weighted with negative words such as malnutrition, food and water scarcity, and disease. What the FSI turns a blind eye towards is that nowadays countries are increasingly aware of what demographic changes would bring about. For China, without a good supply of human labour, there would have had no economic miracle for three decades. With human dividend coming to an end, it has timely terminated the single-child policy to curb the ageing curve. India, on the other hand, is set to become the youngest country by 2020 and is enjoying an outstanding advantage from its youth surge. But the FSI scoring design is again more favourable to Western countries, especially considering some countries are suffering from the demographic deficit and an ageing population. To make it simple, demographic structure can be a core element of state capacity rather than fragility, not to mention that countries like China and India with stronger economies are better equipped to counter demographic challenges.

What is concealed here? The composition of the Index’s indicators shows that more weightage is given to political (and military) indicators as it has six categories. If the FSI can be of any policy indication, it encourages states to imitate the Western path of development and that they would have a brighter chance to better their ranking if they prioritise political over social and economic developments. Cuba has undertaken unprecedented political and economic reforms in the past few years, and has earned itself significant improvement in the trend ranking. However, some failed experiences have definitely proven the opposite as well, because states tend to become fragile in the process of political improvement and more fragile if domestic insurgency or external interventions are underway. Obvious cases are those countries affected in the Arab Spring; for example, Tunisia got 9 points in a worsening trend and others, including Yemen, Syria and Libya, went to a critical worsening stage. Therefore, for states like China and India, it will be wiser to put the FSI implications aside and insist on their own path of development.

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