Seminar on “India-China Relations and the Way Forward”
On 6 November 2017, the Vivekananda International Foundation and the Institute of Chinese Studies jointly held a joint seminar on the “India-China Relations and the Way Forward”. A delegation comprising of Prof. Zhao Bole, Prof. Lu Gang and Prof. Yu Xinli from Yunnan Minzu University, Kunming, and Prof Tan Chung participated in the Seminar. The Chinese Ambassador, Mr. Luo Zhaohui, delivered the keynote address. On the Indian side, Director VIF, Dr. Arvind Gupta, delivered the opening remarks. Director of Institute of Chinese Studies Amb. Ashok K Kantha and Amb. TCA Rangachari, Distinguish Fellow, VIF, also participated in the Seminar. The discussion was divided into two sessions: ‘India-China Relations and Cultural Ties’ and ‘Economy in India-China Relations’. The Seminar was attended by the members of the strategic community, scholars from the other think tanks, students and members of the Chinese embassy in India.
Salient points that emerged from the discussions were as follows:
The 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China
Indian participants congratulated the delegation for the successful commencing the 19th Party Congress. Inclusion of “Xi Jinping’s Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era”, is a major outcome of the 19th National Congress. Evidently, China will enhance its national strength in military, economic and political realm. This will have an impact in the region, and the world.
The Chinese delegates expounded on the major diplomatic initiatives taken by Xi Jinping, pointing that in the past five years, Xi Jinping has travelled extensively around the world. They further poited out that Xi Jinping’s thought on major country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics entails two proposition: forge a new form of international relations and build a community with a shared future for mankind. This new diplomacy is against the zero-sum game and stands for peaceful coexistence.
The Border Dispute
The Chinese delegates emphasized that the linking of boundary issue with the bilateral relations is an “old mindset”; it will bring down the prospect of cooperation. The boundary issue must be resolved as soon as possible to mutual satisfaction, they opined. They considered the 1988 visit by Rajiv Gandhi’s visit as a historic visit as it helped to delink the boundary talks with the bilateral issue and that itt was only after his visit the cooperation in different areas of bilateral relations began.
The Indian side stated that the boundary question is outstanding for too long while there is a need for clarification of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) to show some progress on the issue. They added that in the new era of China’s progress, these issues should be resolved satisfactorily. It was clarified that this observation does not really imply ‘old mindset’ or going back to pre-1988 position. Guidelines for resolving the boundary issue was spelt out in 2005, and that the Agreement between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of the People's Republic of China on the ‘Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of the India-China Boundary Question, 2005’ remains the basic framework for resolving the boundary question. They pointed out that the 2005 agreement has been eroded in a very significant manner and that putting it in the backburner is a disservice to ourselves. The unresolved boundary issue can generate mistrust between the two sides and can lead to a more serious situations than the Doklam stand-off.
The Doklam Issue
The Chinese delegates refered to Doklam as an “unfortunate story”. The Indian delegates said that Doklam issue was a setback to bilateral relations. They stated that many difficulties have arisen in the bilateral relations and Doklam was one such episode which fortunately has been resolved. Earlier, there had been the incidents at Chumar and Depsang. Such Incidents cause setbacks to bilateral relations. The two sides need to deepen mutual understanding so that such incidents do not recur and differences do not become disputes, they suggested.
The Belt and Road Initiative
The Indian delegates raised doubts about the motivation behind the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), pointing out that the initiatives are unilateral and aimed at enhancing China’s geopolitical influence. China should also be sensitive to the sovereignty concerns of other countries.
The Chinese delegates called the BRI as the ‘new commandment for Asia’, as the initiative will promote peace and stability in the region. Continuing, they stated that it is a part of Xi Jinping’s concept of international relations in which the focus is on “shared future”. Although it can go forward without India’s participation it may not be as successful as it was conceived to be. The Indian delegates mentioned their concern vis-à-vis the BRI and stated that India is not ready to assume a subordinate role in the project. They also pointed out the ongoing competition between India and China in their periphery, both in land and water.
People to People Contact
The Chinese delegates emphasized that the government to government interactions are not sufficient, there is a need for more people to people interaction. Frequent interactions help in correcting the misperception on each side and public diplomacy can partly solve the problem between the two countries, they suggested, this being the most rational and healthy way to interact with each other. More Memoranda of Understanding between the Chinese University and the think tanks with their counterpart in India and more translation projects from both the side was suggested. They also recommended that both sides should invest in promoting student exchanges. This will help in connecting the two civilizations in a much better way. The Indian delegates welcomed the fact that as many as 50 students from China are participating in the 80th anniversary of the 'Cheena Bhavana', and called for more such people to people exchanges.
Different Perception of the Evolving World Order
The Chinese delegates expressed their concern over the India, US, Japan and Australia meeting. The Indian side emphasized that it is not directed against any country and that India maintains its ‘Strategic Autonomy’, this being one of the tenants of the India’s Foreign Policy. Further, the Indian side made it clear that there is a difference of perception from both the sides about the evolving geopolitics. India has welcomed the ‘Rise of China’ but there are apprehensions about China’s assertive behavior in certain areas. India is concerned that China is no longer interested in a multipolar world order. The term multi-polarity is mentioned in the 19th Party Congress work report but it no longer seems to be the preoccupation of China, they averred.
The Way Forward for the Bilateral Relations
The Indian participants observed that India-China relations is at an inflexion point. The consensus reached between the two leaders at the Xiamen should be the guiding principle for the bilateral relations. Seemingly, the bilateral difference has occupied higher profile. There is a need to take a fresh look at the modus vivendi. The existing ones do not really address the issue in a forthright way. We need to build on the positives of the relationship and take forward the agreements reached in 2014 during Xi Jinping’s visit to India and PM Modi’s visit to China in 2015. Today we have strong leaders on both sides who can take advantage of this positive situation. The investments made by the two leaders in the bilateral relations is immense. Both the countries should acknowledge the existing convergence of interests in the international sphere, for example in West Asia and Afghanistan.
The Chinese delegates responded by stating that India and China are the two civilizations created by the Himalayas. There is no fundamental difference between the two societies. Both the countries need to focus on long-term goals like Free Trade Area (FTA) arrangement, Treaty of Good Neighbourliness and Friendly Cooperation, early harvest on the border issue and alignment of the BRI with India’s development strategy. The forthcoming meetings of foreign ministers and State Councillor Yang Jiechi’s visit to attend the 20th round of border talks is a good opportunity to build on the positives of the relations.
Both sides acknowledged the prevailing distrust in India-China relations and the need to diminish it through a variety of measures. It was also felt that strengthening people–to- people contact would help in bridging the trust gap. In summary, the Indian delegates stressed on addressing the real issues of the bilateral relation while the Chinese sides were emphasizing more on people-to-people contact and issues of their own interest.