Bilateral Conference on “Future of India-China Relationship”

~ By Siddharth Singh

India Foundation and the Fudan University held the third edition of their bilateral interaction in Delhi on 4th and 5th of December, 2016. The interaction witnessed scholarly and candid exchange of views from both sides on critical issues such as challenges to Sino-India relations, regional peace and stability and prospective solutions to the way forward for relations between two countries.

Mr. Ashok Kantha, Former Ambassador of India to China delivered the inaugural keynote address at the conference. The conference then progressed to the first working session “Challenges to Sino-India Relationship”chaired by Lt. Gen Arun Kumar Sahni. He started the discussion by pointing out various areas of concerns in the bilateral relation between India and China. He flagged the issue of unresolved territorial and boundary dispute. In addition, he also raised the Indian concerns of “all-weather” friendship between China and Pakistan that is, in Chinese President Hu Jintao’s words, “higher than the mountains and deeper than the oceans”. He pointed out that Pak nuclear program gets China’s support either covertly or overtly which is a major threat to the region’s security. He also asked for greater resonance in China and India’s efforts of bringing peace and stability in Afghanistan and for the overall development of Afghanistan.He suggested that in today’s asymmetric challenges, India and China should look at each other for deeper cooperation in the cyber & space where there is a convergence of interest.

In the same session,Prof. Zhu Cuiping started her presentation by highlighting the prospective areas of cooperation between India and China and she also mentioned the challenges in the bilateral relations.“Inthe past, the economic aspect of bilateral relation has helped in cementing ties, thereby in future too improvement in economic relations and removal of trade imbalance will pave way for a brighter future in the bilateral relation of India and China. She gave the example of USA and Japan. She said that China has economic trade of 500 billion USD with America and 300 billion USD with Japan while it is only 80 billion with India. Despite adversities between China-Japan & China-America, pragmatism and practicality plays a very important role in those bilateral relations so we should learn from those experiences”, she said.

In the same session, there were concerns and doubts raised by the Indian delegation present on China’s Belt and Road initiative and in specific the China Pakistan Economic Corridor. To this the Chinese side affirmed that China only wants to promote regional connectivity by facilitating the modernization process through China’s cheaper technology as compared with other countries and through initiatives such as CPEC, China aims to build infrastructure to promote trade among various parts in the region.

The conference then delved into challenges to Sino-Indian relationship, Prof. Srikanth Kondapalli started the deliberations by analyzing India and China bilateral relations at three levels namely global, multilateral and bilateral. He said that Chinese population is 1.4 billion and Indian population is 1.25 billion, together it is 2.65 billion, therefore it is imperativeto find new and innovative ways for the economic well-being of our 2.65 billion people. The experts in the session were unanimous in stating that even though there is a global slowdown, both India and China continue to grow at 7.4% and 6.9% respectively. Prof. Kondapalli recalled the visit of Chinese President in 2014and said that during President Xi Jingping’s visit in September 2014, three areas of consensus had emerged related to border security; economic relations and people to people contact along with strategic leadership meets at regular intervals.

In the same session, Mr. Zhang Jiegen tried to address the concerns raised by Indian panelists on the issue of India’s entry into NSG. He said that in principle China is not against India’s membership into NSG but emphasized that India will have to follow the procedure as China followed by signing the NPT in 1992 and in principle China only opposes India’s entry because it is not a signatory to the NPT.

Admiral Shekhar Sinha’s intervention was focused on the need for greater strategic communication and accommodation of each other’s concern in the bilateral relation so as to manage the problem of negative perception because you can’t change your neighbours and relatives so that’s why strategic communication at every level is required. What is a non-issue for China, can be a big issue for India and vice-versa. He raised the concern that every year the list of divergence on various issues between India and China keeps increasing so we can’t put everything on backburner. We will have to find out ways to solve the outstanding issues between our two countries. Admiral Sinha pointed out the fact if China talks about legality in India’s entry into NSG by only signing NPT then this legality principle should also be applicable in case of CPEC where China is building infrastructures illegally on a territory which legally comes under India as mentioned in Indian Constitution and legality should also be applied in South China Sea issue where China has made exorbitant claims.

In the session “The Way Forward”, Shri Shakti Sinha said that there is no one path that can be taken up in the way forward because the bilateral relations between India and China are so much wide that it can’t be compartmentalized. He said that at present China is passing through a phase of internal economic reforms so as to shift the Chinese economy from export based model to domestic consumption based economy which will be a very challenging task for China in coming years. In today’s world, India and China should shed out the old mercantile way of trade and both should look at new innovative ways of trade which is mutually beneficial and which benefits the people in the region.

The last session on “Regional Peace and Stability was chaired by Capt. Alok Bansal. During the discussion, Capt. Alok Bansal raised the issue of Terrorism, water sharing problems, CPEC and perception related issues in the bilateral relation of India and China. He said that when China puts a technical hold by utilizing its veto power in UNSC on a terrorist who is globally recognised for his act of terror then such things do create perceptional problems and it deepens the divide further specially by creating resentment and mistrust with no rational logic to justify the act of opposing the ban on technical ground. He alarmed the Chinese that the threat of growing religious fundamentalism is knocking at the doors of China and if China does not act against this growing Islamic radicalism then China will also have to face severe consequences of menace of terror as India and other countries in the region are facing today.

Dr. Li Li talked about strategic stability in Asia and how the bilateral relation of China and India will prove to be a defining partnership in the 21st century for the larger welfare of the region. On Pakistan, Dr. Li said that China-Pakistan relations are not India directed. We don’t have any fundamental differences on terrorism issues. On Kashmir, she said that China has maintained its stand that Kashmir is a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan and China has no role to play in this and thus China’s stand actually strengthens and echoes India’s position on Kashmir. She said that the simultaneous rise of India and China is closely monitored by other powers in the world and it will be interesting to see how the India-USA relations will take shape with emergence of India on the global platform.

Prof. Xin Qiang talked about the role of USA and how the upcoming Trump administration’s foreign policy will shape up the region by realignment, recalibrations and readjustments in the foreign policy approach of other countries in the region including Indian and China. He said that although first focus of USA is Middle East but Prof Xin believed that because of the biggest market & population in the Asia Pacific region which houses two most populous countries, India & China, USA will certainly return back to its policy of “Rebalancing” or “Pivot to Asia” because there is no NATO in this region to protect US interests. So if USA wants to remain dominant in the region then Trump administration can’t ignore Asia Pacific region. He hoped that South China Sea will not be a major source of any kind of tension. He said that both countries share the responsibility of peace, prosperity and stability in the region for its people so we should work together to realize the dream of making 21st century as Asia’s century.

In her intervention in 3rd session, Dr. Sreeradha Dutta said that there may arise a situation when concurrent issues in other part of the world, can create rift between two countries apart from the old contentious bilateral issues so we need to be frank enough while communicating with each other. We must clearly define the “Red Lines” keeping in mind the sensitivities of each other.

In his intervention in the 3rd session “Regional Security and Stability” Shri Ashok Malik said that while looking at the bilateral relation of India-China we should not get trapped into the prism of Pakistan because the canvas of India-China relations is much beyond this. We should deal at much broader level. Both are major power and rising economies of the world so accordingly we both should behave maturely. We should deal with each other as two partner countries and not as two rival countries because there is enough space at global stage for both the countries to cooperate for the larger welfare of the people in the region.

The valedictory address was delivered by Shri Ram Madhav. In his address, Shri Ram Madhav said that India and China are two major powers in Asia today. On one hand, India has its own ambitions to grow as a “Leading, responsible, influential world power”, while on the other end China has also nurtured its great power ambitions for long. Both the nations are racing ahead in realizing their respective dreams. He said that both countries must develop a strong understanding on important issues. For example, on the issue of counter-terrorism, India and China could cooperate extensively. However, he also alerted that the cooperation will succeed only when China revises its strategy of pampering radical elements in Pakistan in the hope that they will not target China.While talking about Geopolitics of Indo-Pacific region, Shri Ram Madhav said that the role of powers like America will diminish in Indo-Pacific region in coming year which provides an opportunity to countries like India and China to play a more proactive role in the Indo-Pacific region. This role can be at one level competitive but at another level it should not lead to conflict and it should probably lead to more cooperation. For this, we need out of box thinking because new situation demands new ideas and new thoughts. Shri Ram Madhav said that this is the perfect time for both the countries to address bilateral issues resolutely and embark on a journey of mutual trust, cooperation and goodwill because at present both the countries are governed by strong leaders who are strongly backed by their respective citizens. In India PM Modi enjoys the full support of people and he is in total command at central level while one other hand, in China, President Xi Jingping has been described as core leader of party who enjoys full authority over government and both leaders enjoy a personal rapo. So to sort out our outstanding issues, we need to think out of box and should find some innovative, pragmatic and mutually acceptable ways to address each other’s concern on various issues. He said that India has put an end to the hyphenation politics. Our bilateral ties are on a strong trajectory today which has been even recognised by the Chinese leadership also. We should lead to greater confidence building measures.In today’s changing global dynamics, India and China, as big economies, has a big role to play at global level but along with that both countries have “together” a big role to play at global level.