5th India Foundation – Fudan University Bilateral Interaction: India-China Relations in the New Era

The 5th edition of India Foundation – Fudan University bilateral interaction was held on 2nd August, 2018 at Nalanda University, Rajgir, Bihar.

Inaugural Session

In her welcome address, Prof. Sunaina Singh, Vice Chancellor Nalanda University and Member, Board of Governors, India Foundation, reiterated Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Act East Policy and stressed the importance of Sino-Indian relations for the Indian Prime Minister which she stated is evident from the fact that PM Modi travelled to China four times before being sworn in as Prime Minister in 2014. Remembering civilisational ambassadors like Hiuen Tsang, she called for fostering mutual trust and cooperation between the two countries as India and China were ‘natural allies’ because of their geographical closeness. Prof. Singh stated that Sino-India relations have been ever evolving; from the days of the British Raj and imperialism to the informal summit at Wuhan, which she referred to as a landmark summit for peace, tranquillity and confidence building measures between the two countries in this new multipolar world. She concluded her remarks by quoting from the poem “The Second Coming” by W B Yeats:

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood- dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity”

Maj. Gen. Dhruv Katoch, Director, India Foundation, in his introductory remarks stated that the main aim of this bilateral interaction was to better understand the concerns that both India and China may have towards each other. He noted that in today’s global order, international relationships have the tendency to change much faster now and India and China must engage each other and cooperate in the fields of climate change, NSG memberships, dealing with rogue nations and most of all in managing border problems. Recalling the deep cultural ties and friendship India and China shared in the ancient times when Nalanda University was the global capital of learning and knowledge, Maj. Gen. Katoch hoped for similar days in the future.

Leading the Chinese delegation for this bilateral, Prof. Zhang Jiadong, Director of Center for South Asian Studies, Institute of International Studies, Fudan University, in a Special Address, stated that the very fact that this is the 5th round of this bilateral indicates that this is an important and successful dialogue. Expressing his optimism about India-China relations, he noted that soon China and India, together, will be the biggest economies in the world at number one and two respectively. As the countries grow together economically, he hoped that they would also grow together politically and in military might. Speaking about the Wuhan summit, he questioned as to why such an atmosphere allowed to be built that the summit at Wuhan had to happen? According to him, this signals that some things must be changed and issues such as this and Doklam provide an opportunity to address the major challenges facing the two countries. He also spoke about the importance of India-China relations vis a vis China and US relations in the current global order. Lastly, calling on the famous Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang, Prof. Jiadong said that in spite of Hiuen Tsang not being able to speak English nor having a passport, he has been the biggest cultural bridge between the two civilisations. He hoped that in today’s age, where both countries have more than a billion plus population, more people to people exchanges happen along with political and military exchanges, this in his opinion will facilitate more dialogue and better relations between the two countries.

In his Keynote Address Shri Ram Madhav, National General Secretary BJP and Member, Board of Governors, India Foundation, highlighted how Nalanda has been central to the Sino-Indian relationship from ancient times. Calling them two great ancient civilisations that have been shaped by their ancient past and not politics, he referred to trade between the two 1500-1600 years ago when the Chola Empire in South India used to trade with China for silk and other commodities. Recalling a statement made by the former Chinese Premier Hu Jintao, who once said that “India and China have been good neighbours for the last two million years and it is only in the last five decades that there has been discord”; he said that there is a trust deficit between the two nations and this needs to be addressed. Speaking about the rapid growth India and China have experienced recently, he listed out some challenges that the two countries face. These according to him include, terrorism, climate change, maritime and border issues and concerns about the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Lastly, Shri Madhav said that the coming together of these two countries here is the beginning of a process that enables them to work together, live together and finally live harmoniously with each other. The inaugural session was wrapped up with a vote of thanks by Prof. Pankaj Mohan of Nalanda University.

Technical Session - 1
The Indo Pacific: An Arena for Cooperation or
Competition between India and China

The first session was chaired by Shri TCA Rangachari, former Indian Ambassador. He said that there cannot be a beginning or end to India-China relations. It is a continuous process since ancient times and their relationship must be looked at directly, and not through the eyes of a western prism. He emphasised the need to have empathy for each other and learn each other’s languages for more exchanges between the two countries.
Mr. Guo Xuetang, professor of international relations and Director of the Institute of International Strategy and Policy Analysis, Fudan University stated that Nalanda has been central to Buddhism and called for a unique solution to solve our problems. He spoke about the strategic requirements of the Indo-Pacific region which he listed as the following: a need to develop the economy, be a comprehensive power in the region, build a stable environment and promote globalisation. He also spoke about the need to make economic growth sustainable while addressing concerns of regional security. Prof. Xuetang summed up by speaking on the importance of the ASEAN region and by giving the formula of ASEAN plus two, i.e. ASEAN plus China and India. He hoped that this would be the basis of a great global partnership.

Shri P. Stobdan, former Ambassador spoke of the Indo-Pacific region with respect to its colonial origins and the attempt to split it into different fragmented parts in the past. Stressing that there are multiple stakeholders in the area, he spoke of cooperation and competition among all. Speaking about the USA’s trade issues with China, Ambassador Stobdan gave the example of how Japan was able to successfully walk the thin line between modernising and westernising. The former Ambassador was of the opinion that if China and India were to succeed together, they must both be willing to share knowledge and technology with each other.

Ms. Yang Xiaoping, a Senior Research Fellow at the South Asia Program National Institute of International Strategy, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, spoke about the need to connect India’s development needs to that of China’s. Speaking about the connectivity of the region, she said no country should have a superiority claim in the region.
Ms. Prabha Rao, Senior Fellow at Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) recalled Chanakya’s foreign policy directives with respect to India and China, and in her opinion China must take a leaf out of India’s approach to the region and must adopt a less China centric approach to the region. Lamenting on the inadequate people to people relationships and exchanges between China and India, she appealed for more exchanges and for India to learn from China’s education system, supercomputing skills and approach towards agriculture and research & development. She expressed concern about terrorism spill overs coming from Syria and appealed for a clear definition of areas of cooperation between the two.

Technical Session - 2
India-China Axis in Multilateral Organisations in a Multipolar
World (SCO, BRICS, EAS)

The post lunch session was chaired by Prof. Zhang Jiadong, Director of Center for South Asian Studies, Institute of International Studies, Fudan University. Shri Shakti Sinha, Director, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, called for initiating incremental changes in the global order by setting up more regional institutions. Speaking about the current global order, where, according to him, when USA is distracted internally, Russia and China have reinvented their relationship and where India and China are the dominant powers in Central Asia, he recommended that the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) must remove barriers to allow better and free movement of goods and services. He traced the origins of the formation of BRICS and the New Development Bank (NDB) and called for setting up of a strong anti-terrorism security atmosphere.
Prof. Liu Zongyi, Senior Fellow at Shanghai Institute for International Studies, compared Eurasia to a private chess board for geo politics in the region. Calling India the balancing power in this region, he called for better dialogue to resolve our issues. On a bilateral level, he recommended to initiate a dialogue on global governance structures where issues like India’s bid for a seat on the UNSC, UNSC reform, issues with climate change, terrorism and financial security. He hoped that the two countries are able to build better mutual strategic trust and recommended that India becomes a member of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).
Prof. Shrikant Kondapalli of JNU, spoke about inclusivity in multilateral organisations like SCO, EAS and BRICS. He appealed for non-discrimination, equality and reciprocity among members at such forums and was of the opinion that bilateral issues must not be brought in the ambit of multilateral discussions. Prof. Kondapalli also stressed on the importance of observer states in these multilateral forums along with coherence and institutional flexibility. He was also of the opinion that the internet must be freely and commonly accessible to everyone, everywhere, as it is now a common global resource. Lastly, he hoped that India and China are able to progress together in the domain of transfer of technology, especially clean and green energy. The next speaker, Dr. Lin Minwang, Associate Professor and deputy director of Center for South Asian Studies, Fudan University, was of the opinion that bilateral relations are an important pivot for multilateral forums.

Technical Session 3
Wuhan Spirit: Building Strategic Trust and Promoting Mutual Cooperation

The last session, chaired by Capt. Alok Bansal, Director, India Foundation, focused on the recently concluded Wuhan Informal Summit. Capt. Bansal spoke on what and on how public opinion sometimes determines the relationship between two nations and what is really required is to build mutual trust between the two nations. Speaking about the past, he said that ancient India is seen by the world through Chinese eyes as many Chinese travellers came to India and their documented records have been a source of great historical value. He spoke about India’s influence on the growth of Chinese Buddhism in these days and in his words, “India influenced China without sending a single soldier” in those early days. Both countries he said, supported a globalised world and the emphasis and importance of family in both cultures still ties them together. Speaking about people to people exchanges, he said that till the time this is not at a level as it probably should be, Bollywood films, which are a big hit in China, can fill the gap in the meanwhile at bringing the communities closer. He however appealed to increase the cap on foreign films being allowed to be released in China. Lastly, he noted that Pakistan occupied Kashmir and the Belt and Road Initiative, create perception problems in India’s relationship with China and these must be addressed at the earliest. Prof. Liu Jiawei, Associate Professor and Director of Center for South Asia-West China Development and Cooperation Studies, Sichuan University, stated that economic cooperation is the base for political and strategic trust. According to him, “no country can develop without outside help, especially of its neighbours”. He appealed for more trade between India and China and an improvement in e-business relationships. Stating that physical capital investment, trade and increased domestic consumption were the main pillars of India’s future growth story, he was of the opinion that China can help India in these areas, particularly with respect to access and availability of capital.

Shri Prafulla Ketkar, Editor, Organiser, stated that before Wuhan, some people had started to assume that India and China might go to war. However, after a successful summit, the media only reported of its resounding success as a bold initiative to rebuild ties. Strategic tranquillity on the borders was restored and an agreement made for both counties to cooperate in Afghanistan. According to Shri Ketkar, the Wuhan spirit however went beyond all these things and created a broad intellectual and spiritual horizon. In the ancient times, he said both countries were culturally immersive and made up about two-thirds of the world’s GDP, while also ensuring a zero sum game. He described India and China’s relationship as circular in nature rather than a relationship that would have ups and downs. A never ending and always ensuing relationship, he said that a circular relationship means that each is always equidistant from each other and always engaged. Moreover, none is above or below each other; there is space for a great mutual respect. He also believed that India and China, being Asian countries where relationships are more ‘informal’ to say as such cannot be defined or expect to conduct business in a ‘formal’ way, which he described as being predominantly an Anglo-Saxon concept. In this regard, India is now an independent country and China has gone through its revolution successfully, but they are still colonised in their ideas and mind. He stressed on the need to ‘decolonise’ with great urgency. He described India and China as not mere sovereign states but rather great civilisational states.

Mr. Wang Tianchan of the Shanghai Institute of American Studies raised issues of border terrorism and the role of ISIS in the same. He was of the opinion that instead of the two countries being occupied with the war on terror, they are unfortunately stuck in a geopolitical trap against each other and other regional and global players.
Dr. Ravi Prasad Narayan called for a need to ‘stand your ground’ for both countries. Remembering writers such as Lu Xun and Munshi Premchand, who were universally lauded for messages of social justice in their writings, he appealed for a need to have a G2, where India and China can together impact greater global change and champion the cause of not just the region but also all developing nations. For example, he stressed on the need for India and China to cooperate on the issue of climate change and the many demands the west often expects of us. Lastly, he suggested that to foster better learning and exchanges, there should be more provisions made for student exchanges and even exchange of credits between universities.

(This report is carried in the print edition of September-October 2018 issue of India Foundation Journal.)

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