Speech by Foreign Sec. on India-China relations in NewYork

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    Oct 8, 2009
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    Speech by FS on Prospects and Challenges of India China Interactions in the 21st Century at New York

    Thank you Prof. Van Zandt for those words of welcome. Thank you Ashok, it is wonderful to be back here, wonderful to see Jianying , my good friend, and I remember the many occasions we met in Beijing when you brought the scholars over from the India China Institute and the discussions were fascinating because we got to see a cross section of Chinese scholars, that we normally would not have interacted with within the normal government to government situations. I also see a lot of old friends in the audience and it is wonderful to be back in New York to meet with all of you and to speak on India-China relations.

    My good friend Tansen Sen is here and I think the inspiration for this lecture draws in many senses from a speech I gave in Singapore less than a month ago on Rabindranath Tagore’s vision of India-China with a 21st century perspective. So when I spoke to Ashok, the impression I got was that you would like me also take a cue from that lecture and speak to you on what the scholar Tan Chung has called the geo-civilization paradigm of India-China relations.

    Let me first start by saying that just in the last year, 2010, India and China have commemorated the 60th anniversary of the establishment of their diplomatic relations. In December 2010, at the fag end of the year, Premier Wen Jiabao was in Delhi to participate in the closing ceremony of the Festival of China in India and this brought to a close, a calendar of activities organized in both countries, to commemorate the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the diplomatic relations.

    Of course the relations between the two countries date back many millennia and that’s where the Tagore aspect comes in because when I spoke in Singapore I drew reference to the fact that Tagore saw this relationship in civilizational terms. He made that visit to China 87 years ago and he went to China with a message of brotherhood and of fraternal partnership which he felt symbolized the relations between the two countries.

    His vision was of a mutually beneficial interactive relationship between two great civilizations and he passionately advocated the opening of a path between the two countries. So in a sense what we try to do today and the path we seek to chart in the relationship can I believe draw inspiration from the work of scholars like Tagore. Tagore is important also because it was his effort that really initiated a more scientific study of China and India. He set up the “Cheena Bhavana” in Shantiniketan, which is the university town where he established the Vishwabharati, literally a world Indian university.

    Something of that spirit we try to revive today when we look at the re-establishment of the Nalanda University in Bihar. Nalanda University again was the world university in the Buddhist era of our history and was destroyed a few centuries ago and out of the East Asia Summit, in which India is involved, has come this idea that we should revive the Nalanda University and make it once again the world centre of learning.

    The Chinese scholar Ji Xianlin, who died two years ago, and one of China’s most famous modern Indologisst, spoke about “lives being mortgaged to pilgrimage”, and the pilgrims of the Buddhist era between India and China did just that - they mortgaged their lives to pilgrimage, to scholarship and to debate. When you talk of today, it is fashionable to talk about the competition between India and China. But when you look back at that time, the centuries of contact at that particular period of history, it was more defined not so much in terms of contest or conflict or competition but in terms of debate and the traffic of ideas.

    That is really what Tagore and his outlook on China was all about. In fact, I would like to also quote something that Ji Xianlin said when he spoke of China and India standing simultaneously on the Asian continent with their relationship created by heaven and constructed by earth.

    So I thought I would speak about the interactions in the 21st century but before that I wanted to give you an idea about the matrix in which this relationship is placed today and for that you really have to go back to the fifties of the last century when India was newly independent and the People’s Republic of China had just been established and this was the time when both our countries in the sense re-discovered each other seeking to grasp the sense of synergy between two of the largest populated countries in the world on a global stage.

    This sense of developing a synergy is an unfinished agenda because today as India and China regain our place in Asia and the world as leading global economies, we are trying through the relationship that we have, to craft that sense of synergy while being aware constantly of the complexities in the relationship and the unfinished agenda when it comes to complete normalization.

    There is awareness of course of the muffled footsteps, as Tagore said of historical contact between our two peoples. The fact was this inspired the well intentioned efforts in the fifties to build the Panchsheela or the five principles of peaceful co-existence, an attempt that was star crossed in many senses, because it faltered and telescoped into the troubled phase which enveloped our relationship in the sixties and up until the mid-seventies because of the conflict over the boundary.

    Through those difficult days, however, the leadership in both countries, in essence understood the untenability of protracted estrangement between India and China. And so in the last three decades, we have made concerted efforts to establish a framework for a stable, a more productive and a multi-sectoral relationship between India and China; where we have sought to manage contradictions and where differences have not prevented our expanding bilateral engagement and the building of congruent scenarios where we can build such congruence. So, in a sense, the warp and weft of the relationship, have elements of cooperation and elements of competition. And let me speak to you a little about the specifics of that engagement.

    Why I think it is important that we focus more intensively on this relationship between India and China is because also today there is a very heightened sense of awareness of what Asia’s identity can be in the 21st century. When it comes to focusing on Asia, you are bound to focus on these two largest countries of Asia, India and China. And there again, I think, ancient ideas don’t need to be antiquated and the sense of Asia, the Asia of the past where people spoke of literally a common economic space, where you had an approach that was defined by secularism and a complementariness of interests, a balanced commercial equilibrium, enhanced by a concept of spiritual unity, this is really what our forefathers engaged in when they looked at the interactions between countries in Asia; marked by a sense of tolerance, openness and lack of prejudice to outsiders, a spirit of enterprise and absence of trade barriers. In a sense, the past should serve as a rough guide to the future. That is exactly what people like Tagore had in mind when they spoke of India and China coming together.

    Let me come back to the current relationship between India and China. When you look at the challenges between the two countries that confront us, we also see opportunities. As our Prime Minister said, “you have an image before you of India and China continuing to grow very fast simultaneously and our policies will have to cater to these emerging realities of the rise of these two countries, just of the two countries themselves”.

    For us, the situation is definitely complex since China is our largest neighbor and also because China is today a major power in the world, both from the traditional geopolitical point of view as well as the more current geo economic point of view. In the world of today, China is a factor in several equations and, therefore, it is intellectually satisfying, once again let me comeback to the subject of scholarship, to look more closely at all facets of China.

    As a nation we therefore believe we would like to encourage more efforts to accelerate an intellectual drive to understand China better. In fact when Premier Wen Jiabao came, one of the announcements that is reflected in the joint statement, issued at the end of that visit, is that Mandarin Chinese will be taught as a subject in our schools from middle school onwards, commencing with this year. So this is a reflection of the interest that Indians take in China today and the desire to understand China more comprehensively and more profoundly.

    Now we all know China’s rapid economic growth over the last three decades has been spectacular and riveting. It is now the second largest economy in the world with a huge GDP of roughly 5.5 trillion US Dollars and its youth, particularly, among its people seem focused on improving their living standards in the quest for a more prosperous future and certainly politics does not seem to define their everyday if you look at the contrast between India and China.

    China has, of course, begun to deal in the currency of global power and its economic success is impacting its foreign defense and security policies. Now the appellation of assertiveness is frequently applied to China’s global profile today. The question that I’m always asked is whether our relationship with China will be one dominated by increasing competition for influence and for resources as our economic needs also grow. But I really believe that neither of us have a luxury of seeing each other in purely antagonistic terms. The view that India and China are rivals to me is a over generalization as well as an over simplification of a complex relationship which encompasses so many diverse issues.

    I believe that the proposition of competition and rivalries should not be exaggerated in a manner that it over shadows our genuine attempts to manage and transact a rationally determined relationship between India and China. The reality is that both our countries have worked hard over the last two decades to enhance dialogue in a number of fields and we must maintain and build on that trend. At the same time, it is true that divergences persist, and that there is no denying the fact that we have a disputed border. There are legacies as well as lessons bequeathed to us by history.

    The boundary question is a complex problem. The cartographies that define national identity are internalized in the minds of people of both countries. At the same time, we are making a serious attempt to arrive at a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable solution of the boundary question as the recent fourteenth round of talks of the special representatives, appointed by both governments, will testify.

    The absence of a solution to the question is not due to lack of effort; instead it arises from the difficulty of the question itself, as any analyst in the audience would surely appreciate. What also needs to be appreciated is that the India-China boundary is, one of the most peaceful of all borders. We have in place an organized set of measures or what we call the confidence building measures, or CBMs, to ensure peace or tranquility in the border areas. We are currently talking to each other on establishing more such mechanisms. I believe there is maturity on both sides to understand the complexity of the issue and to insulate it from affecting our boarder relationship. I believe this policy has paid dividends and has contributed towards reducing the possibility of conflict.

    I would like to delve briefly on defense exchanges between India and China because when you talk about the boundary question, you also dwell on the role of what the respective defense establishments would be. We have had defence exchanges between India and China, including small scale anti-terrorism related military exercises. At present, our high level military exchanges are on hold and I do not know how many of you are following this debate in the media, of late, but some differences have arisen over the fact that China recently did not accept an army delegation from our northern command. The northern command covers Jammu and Kashmir and the Chinese said that they would not be in a position to accept that delegation which was a point of view that we did not agree with. So consequent upon that, defence exchanges have not moved forward because there has been a certain trough that has been created by this. But, all the same, flag meetings of border personnel along the line of actual control have continued. So, the situation in the border areas remains tranquil.

    So, when it comes to defence exchanges I believe it would be right for me to say that there is desire to slowly expand these exchanges that there have been limits to this process. And, I think that a question here again which is debated quite often these days is about the role of the Peoples Liberation Army. Is it more assertive than before? What is the contribution it makes to the formation of foreign policy vis-à-vis China’s neighbours? I think this is a subject we can talk about at length but if I were to dwell on it for longer my speech would be too extended.

    Talking about brighter spots in our relationship I would look at the economic interaction or commercial interaction. China as you know is now India’s largest trading partner. Trade was 61.7 billion US dollars at the end of last year, 2010. There is an imbalance in trade, however, our exports were 20.8 billion dollars to China while our imports from China were 40.9 billion dollars. So the trade deficit is a worrying. Given the composition of our trade, we export a lot of raw materials and raw commodities to China and China exports a lot of finished goods, machinery and huge infrastructure related machinery to India.

    We would like to sell more value added products to China including pharmaceuticals and computer software. However, the Chinese Government, in our view, will have to dismantle non-tariff barriers to such trade and provide us greater market access. Challenges in the medium term include attracting Chinese companies to invest in and manufacture from India. This will provide jobs and this is a huge thing in India as it is in the United States. I think this would be a good move for the Chinese to make in order to address some of the misgivings we have as far as the imbalance in the business and commercial relationship is concerned. We would like to see greater Chinese participation in building infrastructure in India including financing of such projects.

    Similarly, science and technology exchanges are not very vibrant and both sides again have much to learn from each other. There is potential for the future, here I would just like to dwell on something that would be of interest. When Premier Wen Jiabao was in India last December, he met with a section of media and academic and cultural personalities on how to improve perceptions of Indians and Chinese about each other. You see there is also an information and perceptional gap between the two countries. When you talk to the average Chinese, they do not know very much about India and the idea of Indian democracy and the seeming chaos that they associate with Indian democracy seems very foreign to the Chinese mind and that, I think, comes from a lack of understanding of the way these processes work and a distance in terms of really seeing India up and close, visiting India more often and trying to engage with Indian society.

    I think there is a gulf to be bridged there and I think this is what Premier Wen set out to do when he met with a cross section of these people. One of the ideas that came out from that meeting was that we should really be looking at more interaction between the two countries in innovation in technology and cientific exchanges which we are not doing very much at the moment. For instance, India and Japan cooperate now a great deal in this area. Not just in infrastructure creation but also between scientific and academic institutions. Japan is setting up a new IIT in India in Hyderabad. So there is a lot of interaction that goes on with many of our other partners. With China that has not yet taken off.

    Similarly, people to people exchanges are not very sizeable at present and we should expand these contacts. Tourism from China is still very small. However, there are 7000 Indian students studying in China today and most of them study medicine, what’s interesting is, apart from the fact that they are studying western medicine in China, they are located all over China and they come from every part of India. It is not that they come from the big cities of Delhi, Mumbai or Chennai or Calcutta. They come from the small district towns, small provincial areas and they are in the heartland of China, right in the interior studying and spending four to five years there. So there is a whole new generation of Indians being exposed to China in that way.

    Similarly there are a number of Chinese students in India but nowhere near the numbers that we have in China. As I mentioned we’ve also introduced Chinese as a foreign language for study in our schools and we want to prepare our younger generation for this new relationship that we are building with China.

    Similarly in the global area in organizations such as the Brazil, Russia, India, China, BRIC forum, which will soon be expanded to include South Africa when the BRIC countries meet in China two months from now, and also in the BASICgroupn the field of environment in the Conference of Parties on the environment, China and India have been cooperating very closely as also in the G-20 where we are both important member countries that discuss and influence reform of international financial institutions.

    So, here again, multilaterally the scope for cooperation has broadened and deepened and at the leadership level, it may or may not come as a surprise to you that our leaders have been meeting very frequently. In fact, Prime Minister met Mr. Hu Jintao twelve times between 2005 and 2010 and he met Premier Wen Jiabao eleven times, in that same period. So there is very frequent communication and contact between the two sides.

    Today we are called strategic and cooperative partners for peace and prosperity. That is how India and China define their relations and the relationship as I said has become increasingly multi-faceted where closely interacting with each other in a number of areas and also as I said on issues concerning the global economic situation.

    Just recently as a follow up as a result of Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit in December, our two Governments have decided to institute a strategic economic dialogue, as a measure of the increasing complexity and sophistication of the dialogue on economic issues. So we will just commence that new dialogue this year. This is a new addition to what we do in the relationship.

    The challenge I believe in this century, when it comes to India and China, and this is a relationship that is really going to be, I would not be exaggerating when I draw reference to what a Chinese scholar Tan Yun Shan said about Sino-Indian relations being “the most important of the most important”. I think when it comes to the relationship between these two big Asian giants, a lot of what happens in this relationship will impact the situation in our region and particularly when it comes to the economic strength the rising economic strength of both these countries the world certainly is watching and assessing the impact of this relationship.

    Before I conclude, I should also refer to the fact of China’s relationship with Pakistan. There is also that question that comes up and most people who follow this whole issue would be interested in hearing our views on it.

    Pakistan is one of our important neighbours and we believe that a stable Pakistan, a prosperous Pakistan is in India’s interest. And we are not against Pakistan’s relations with other countries. We do not believe relationships with countries are zero sum games. At the same time we do not hesitate to stress our genuine concerns regarding some aspects of the Pakistan-China relationship particularly when it comes to China’s presence in Pakistan occupied Kashmir, China’s policy on Jammu and Kashmir and China-Pakistan security and nuclear relationship. Here we have welcomed a more open discussion with China on these issues and I believe as mutual confidence grows in this relationship we will have more opportunities to discuss these issues and also to seek more clarity and more transparency in regard to the concerns that we have raised.

    The issue of giving stapled visas to Indian nationals from the state of Jammu and Kashmir also arises in a similar context. So these are issues that are of concern to us when it comes to the China-Pakistan relationship. Because when China gives the stapled visa to an Indian living in Jammu and Kashmir, the inference that we draw out of this is somehow the status of Jammu and Kashmir is being questioned by China. The issue of Indian sovereignty over Jammu and Kashmir is being questioned by China. This is an issue that we need to resolve. The Chinese Government has told us that they are giving serious attention to this and they would like to see this resolved and we are hoping that there would be satisfactory resolution to this.

    We believe that the India-China relationship will grow even stronger once China show more sensitivity on these core issues that we feel impinge our sovereignty and our territorial integrity and we hope that this can be realized.

    Finally, what I would like to say is that, people talk about security architectures for Asia. Here again there is immense scope for India and China to engage in closer dialogue with each other. Because there are issues of maritime security, the issues concerning global commerce in our region, the issue of terrorism, the issue of just ensuring that we have a peaceful periphery; all these we share common concerns. We have stressed rather than excluding China from any debate or discussion on security in our region, it would be rational to follow up more inclusive approach that involves more engagement with China, more discussion, more exchange of ideas with Chinese stakeholders, so that we have a balanced and inclusive security architecture in our region. And this will support India and China.

    As India and China pursue their interests, so long as their overwhelming preoccupation remains their domestic transformation, both of us will understand that the realization of this goal requires a peaceful environment around us. As I said before, there will be elements of competition in our bilateral relationship but these can be managed so that the are elements of congruence or common ground, as Permier Chou en Lai said so long ago, can be built upon.

    As our interests gets progressively more complex, at the same time the costs of any withdrawal from engagement will also rise. So, I believe ultimately that this is a big relationship with the clear possibility of both sides pursuing an ambitious agenda for mutual engagement that will make this relationship one of the most important bilateral equations of our century. It is in our interest, therefore, I believe to view it in a more wide angled and a higher definition manner than we have never done before.

    I will stop here and take questions.

    Question: you gave a wonderful description of the India and China relationship starting from before Christ. In the beginning, it was a very good relationship between India and China. and now we are making effort to get back to that stage. In between, the friction, I think, occurred due to the border problem started in the early 60s. That was because General Mac Mahon drew up a line between these two countries. When he drew up, was China aware of the problem that it was not acceptable to them? If so, why suddenly did this issue come up later and even when Nehru was talking to Chou en Lai, Hindi-Chini bhai bhai, did they bring up this issue at all? If you can throw some light on this.

    Answer: I will try to answer this as brief as I can because it is a subject of very lengthy expositions of who is right and who is wrong. But as far as the MacMahon line is concerned, this is something that goes back to 1913-14. It was a line that was drawn on the map in the eastern sector of the India-China border in the early years of the 20th century. When India became independent that was recognized as the border in the eastern sector between India and China. Now, it so happened that in the 50s was India and China began to talk about these issues for the first time, previous to that, in the British colonial period up until 1947, China and India had never spoken about these issues.

    There was some correspondence that was exchanged with the Tibetan establishment in Lhasa between the British Indian Government and the Tibetan establishment in Lhasa, but not really with the Chinese Government to discuss how they saw this particular delineation of the boundary in the particular location I referred to.

    In the 50s when it began to be discussed for the first time that is when the Chinese ventilated their objections, or their views about this section of the bou,nndary saying that it would not be possible for them to accept it. But, however, let me add that at that time when we discussed it, between the two sides the impression or the indication given by the Chinese were that they were prepared to take a realistic view of the situation and they did that, in fact, with Burma. The section of the Mac Mahon Line that covers the Burma-Tibet frontier was in a sense settled on the basis of that Line in the discussions held between the Burmese and the Chinese Governments in the late 1950’s and signed, sealed and settled in 1960 when they had their boundary agreement. But when it comes to the Indian section of that Mac Mahon Line it is still to be recognized by China. China has said that they do not accept the Mac Mahon Line in the eastern sector.

    Question: I am the faculty member who teaches the course on Indo-Chinese interactions and I have many students here and I can tell you each year I teach the course more and more students attend of their interest in this relationship. Of particular concern in this relationship as you mentioned is the border war. In trips to both India and China I’ve heard the members of the military establishment, particularly in India take a very hawkish stand on this border issue. Given your commitment to the fact that there are segments of Indian and Chinese leadership who see this border issue in broader terms and do seek the possibilities of reconciliation, I wonder how much has the Indian Government as well as the Chinese Government put money to the fostering a new generation of thinkers about this border war. Because if there is no commitment by the governments to develop this new generation of thinkers then the leadership establishment will continue to think in old terms. And we will just be talking past one another.

    Answer: I think you have raised an extremely important issue and how do you break down certain approaches to a very difficult and complex problem. Obviously it will not go away easily, you have to find a way to not allow it to acquire dimensions that will only aggravate tensions between the two countries. So the challenge is to manage this problem and manage the situation in a manner that enables you to broaden engagement in many areas and to encourage scholars on both sides to discuss and to come out with solutions that take into account current realities and make it possible for relationships that have existed for centuries between the border communities on both sides to be revived once again.

    And in fact I don’t know if you know Dr Patricia Oberoi. She had a very interesting take on this very recently. Right now the institution of the nation state is defined by territorial boundaries. Patricia talks about this, “how with this concept, come notions of center and periphery, mainland and margins and the justified use of force in their defence”. As she says, maybe somebody like Tagore, would have thought of frontier zones between the two countries as revolving doors as creative spaces where civilizations meet, not as troubled spots of contemporary geo-politics. So with this sort of sustainability if we can create a relationship would be I think useful, but it will require immense rethinking for both our countries to look it that way. That will be the challenge. When you talk about the military establishment in India, I would hesitate using the word hawkish, as I deal with them constantly. They are committed to an engagement with China that enables the better understanding of each others positions, with the goal being that we do not allow tensions to escalate along our common borders.

    We have many ideas that I think if were put into practice, which involves a pragmatic recognition of realities as they exist today - how can we improve communication, how can we strengthen border trade, how do we enable contact between communities on both sides and how do we put in place confidence building measures that enables the armies of the two sides to be able to operate in a manner that does not increase tension.

    It is a question of management of border regime that is effective and enables normalcy to prevail even if you have not really drawn a line on the map that is mutually agreed between the two countries which may take time.

    Question: This is Betwa Sharma from the Press Trust of India. Madam, could you speak a little bit about how China feels about India becoming a permanent member of the Security Council and also last year President Obama was very forthright in his endorsement of India. Does India want such an endorsement from China? Is it forthcoming and what is the current status like?

    Answer: Since this question is from PTI, I am sure that you are looking at the next newspaper headline. But I would answer in as matter of fact manner as I can. Of course, it will be useful for China to endorse India’s desire and claim to be a permanent member of Security Council. What China has said so far is that it understands India’s aspirations to play a greater role in the United Nations and it has basically stopped there.

    Following President Obama’s endorsement of India’s candidature, you had Premier Wen Jiabao come to India. Let me say that the discussions we had with Premier Wen on that occasion were useful and certainly I think there is much greater awareness on China’s part about India’s aspirations to become a permanent member of the Security Council. Indeed, the ground swell support within the United Nations -we were just doing a tally the other day that, I think, 128 member countries of the United Nations have expressed their support for India’s candidature in terms of just India’s candidature. Of course, I am very conscious about the realities and much more work has to be done in this regard and it is not going to happen tomorrow or day after tomorrow. But my own feeling is that when it really comes, and I am accused of being unduly optimistic, but if it comes to the decision making point, where it is the question of the Security Council being expanded and India being admitted, I doubt very much if China would oppose that move when it comes to that. But as of now, China is not expressing itself openly in favour of India’s candidature.

    Question: One of the faculty here and also an India-China fellow. I visited Yunnan last year and I was quite struck by the senior policy makers and their eagerness to improve their ties with the border regions of India. At the same time within India, there has been some muted disappointment on our improvement in interactions across North-East India. Perhaps our expectations were too high. My question is can you tell a little bit about the challenges in the normalizing the situation in North-East India.

    Answer: When I look at North-East India, I say India is a South-East Asian nation. Honestly, because South-East Asia begins in North-East India because of the similarities between the eight states of North-East India and the South-East Asia. When you look at Yunnan, it is still a little distant. Yes, in history, there have been a lot of cross cultural links, ethnic mixtures between North-Eastern India, South-East Asia and South-West China. Geo-politics has today created a lot of distances - political, geographic and emotional. There are a lot of gaps that we need to bridge, that may not happen immediately. But let us start with closer linkages between North-East India and South-East Asia, for instance. Already to link Burma with Manipur, we are talking of better roads, border trade and connectivity through Myanmar, through Burma to Thailand and then onwards to the rest of South-East Asia. If relations between India and China, particularly on the boundary question, improve and there is greater level of confidence, one can think of more communication with those parts of China that are close to South-East Asia and to North-East India. But I do not believe it is going to happen immediately.

    Speech by Foreign Secretary on “Prospects and Challenges of India China Interactions in the 21st Century” at the India China Institute, The New School, New York

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