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Address by Foreign Secretary at India China Think-Tanks Forum

Addressby Foreign Secretary at India China Think-Tanks Forum

December09, 2016


It is a great pleasure toaddress the India China Think-Tanks Forum. I had the privilege, along with CASSPresident Wang Weigguang, of signing the agreement that created this forum inMay 2015. It is a source of satisfaction to see the idea become a reality. Ialso know you have had discussions today on range of subjects – from securityarchitecture and great power relationships to economic experiences andarrangements. Allow me to use this occasion to share with you some thoughtsabout the evolution of our ties and the broad direction that we hope they take.I understand that your deliberations today were open and conducted in anenvironment of refreshing candor befitting the stature of institutions engagedin this exercise. It is a good beginning. I hope that this trend will continueas we institutionalize this dialogue mechanism.

It is generallyunder-estimated how much India and China, as proximate neighbours, have had todo with each other in the course of history. The evidence of our interaction isthere in front of our eyes, whether along the Silk Road or at Dunhuang, Luoyangor Datong. There are still older examples – be it in provinces like Sichuan, orindeed, later ones along the Fujian coastline. Yet, a narrative that we havealways been distant from each other was successfully constructed by Westernpowers that had an interest in doing so. As Prof. PC Bagchi notes in his uniquework on a thousand years of our cultural history, the accidents of the secondworld war reconnected two peoples who had almost forgotten their common past.Unfortunately, the border conflict and its political consequences interruptedthis process. Although India was among the earliest Governments to establishties and promote cooperation with the People’s Republic of China, the threelost decades compel us to still play catch up with relationships that came verymuch later.

Viewed from the perspectiveof our bilateral ties, the progress in the last 28 years since we havenormalised ties has been commendable. The two countries have succeeded inbuilding a substantial relationship that covers many political, economic,social and cultural facets while adroitly managing their differences. On theborder itself, they have generally established peace and tranquillity whileagreeing on political parameters and guiding principles for a boundarysettlement. Inevitably, challenges that emanate from differential logisticalcapabilities and a lack of commonly agreed line of actual control continue. Buthopefully, as these gaps narrow, we will see a greater stability that would behelpful towards arriving at a final boundary solution. It is also important torecognise that during this entire period, both of us have put a premium ondeveloping our bilateral relationship and not allow other considerations tounduly influence their progress. This focus, to my mind, has a great value initself.

Together, these developmentshave created the foundation on which economic cooperation grew andpeople-to-people contacts expanded. Again, it is not altogether surprising thateconomic differentials and systemic characteristics created over time somesignificant trade challenges. The growing deficit legitimately raised questionsabout the sustainability of the current way of commerce. But it is a testamentto our maturity that we have sincerely tried to address this problem throughgreater investment and wider market access, the former more successfully than Imust confess the latter, so far.

Appreciating this progressand noting the tasks ahead, this gathering could perhaps consider reflecting onthe India-China relationship from a more strategic perspective. There are fewprecedents for the near-simultaneous rise of two major powers, that too inclose proximity. When these powers have a tangled contemporary relationship,the process becomes even more complicated. As a general proposition, risingpowers tend to be self-absorbed and do not always synchronize theircapabilities, ambitions and diplomacy. In our case, bear in mind that it is notonly the future that links us, but the past as well. After all, our decline inthe 19th century was also connected in many ways. The lesson to be drawn isthat societies as large and complex as ours cannot remain unaffected by broaderregional and global developments. We draw strength and inspiration from theworld immediate to us, just as we are impacted by its volatility anduncertainties. It is for this reason that our leaders envisioned our respectivenational rise as part of the unfolding of a larger Asian century. That shouldremain an enduring framework for political cooperation.

In recent years, ourrelationship has also been projected and analyzed by some quarters in primarilycompetitive terms. This is an imbalanced picture, if only because it ignoresthe substantive cooperation that we have so painstakingly developed in so manyfields. But equally, it gives a much sharper interpretation to what can be adiversity or a divergence, rather than a difference. This impression is best counteredby India and China consciously seeking and expanding their convergences. Andthat can certainly be done if we give each other sufficient space whilesteadily finding common ground. Indeed, if our two countries both see merit ina multi-polar Asia, and recognize that it can be the basis for a moredemocratic global order as well as for Asia’s own stability, then thisexcessive emphasis on competition - that is not in the interest of eithercountry - can be laid to rest.

One obstacle to developinggreater common ground is an undue attachment to the concept of balance ofpower. While not denying at all that this can be a legitimate consideration inapproaching international relations, we should appreciate that a moreglobalised world actually puts a greater value on shared interests and commonendeavours. Indeed, a more forward looking outlook - both in the analysis andpractice of world politics - is to our mutual advantage. The fact is that theworld is getting both flatter and more inter-penetrative. Major powers have towork with each other even if their interests diverge on some issues. Thosepowers who have more distance between them will be at a disadvantage in such asituation. It is in the mutual interest of India and China not to be in that predicament.

Till recently, our interestsand influence were largely confined to our own immediate region. As ourcapacities grow, they have started to intersect more, including incomparatively distant areas. We encounter each other more often and in differentways in other places. At the very least, it is important that we develop anunderstanding of each other’s presence and activities. Ideally, we could evenconsider coordinating, where feasible, for larger global good. At a time ofchange, we should obviously pay great attention to strategic communication.This could help avoid misunderstanding and promote greater trust andcooperation.

In this background, let meemphasise that India’s commitment to developing ties with China has been evenfurther strengthened by the current Government. You will all recall that thefirst foreign minister to be received in India after the May 2014 elections wasWang Yi. President Xi’s visit which took place very soon thereafter not onlylaid the basis for our Closer Developmental Partnership, but to date, is theonly bilateral one in Prime Minister Modi’s home state. These gestures havealso notably been reciprocated on the Chinese side. But progress has gone wellbeyond symbolisms. Policy changes on the Indian side have significantlyimproved the investment conditions for Chinese companies in India. In fact, thesharpest change in FDI commitments since 2014 has been by Chinese companies – atestimony, in equal measure, to their confidence and our openness. Equallyimportant, relaxation of visa rules is today rapidly expanding people to peopleexchanges between India and China. I would say in all candour that these werethe two biggest complaints I faced in my tenure as Ambassador to China andtheir redressal is a matter of personal satisfaction. We have also created newplatforms and mechanisms, some of them unique to China, such as on sister cityand sister province ties.

Going beyond the bilateral, Iam sure you would all agree that the world view of India and China have much incommon. This is not surprising given our history and cultures. Today, part ofthe challenge is to ensure that shared principles are translated into policiesthat promote convergence. There is much room for improvement and let me mentionsome issues that we could address more effectively. Given our CloserDevelopment Partnership and commitment to the BASIC group on climate change, weshould be supporting each other on implementation of our Paris Agreementcommitments. In India’s case, predictable access to civilian nuclear energytechnology is key. The broad basing of the nuclear technology control group isalso helpful to a more representative international order. Keeping in mind thissolidarity of major developing states, it is important that China view this asa developmental aspiration and not give it a political colouring.

Similarly, as diverse andpluralistic societies, we both face threats from fundamentalist terrorism. Yet,we do not seem to be able to cooperate as effectively we should in somecritical international forums dealing with this subject. Even on sovereignty,surely there can be more sensitivity and understanding. Though we have a commitmentto a more democratic world order, our actions in respect of the reform of theUN Security Council are in contrast to our approaches to usher in a moreequitable international economic order through reform of the existingmultilateral institutions and our cooperation in creating new institutions suchas AIIB and BRICS Development Bank. These situations are paradoxical because weactually hardly differ when it comes to principles.

Our relationship has movedbeyond a stage where we need to constantly reassure each other. The way forwardis to put ourselves in the shoes of the other to the extent possible. And wewill probably discover that we have more in common than we might have thought.Look at the similarities between "India as a Leading Power” and the"China Dream”. We are both old civilizations and proud countries that areretaking our positions in the global order. Let us at least respect eachother’s strong sense of independence and legitimate aspirations while seekingaccommodation and building trust.

I am a strong optimist on thefuture of our ties. Having travelled widely in China, I am aware of thegoodwill that we enjoy, the interest in many of our achievements and therespect for our culture and history. On the Indian side, there is broad appreciationfor the rapid progress of China and its growing role in international affairs.Our leaders have not only established a personal connection but laid out ashared vision of the further development of this critical relationship. Much ofthe responsibility for taking this forward rests on the shoulders of policymakers and implementers in both Governments, on the think tanks that provideanalysis and the media that shapes our thinking. I am confident that if we allrise to the occasion, India China ties will rapidly realize its true potential.