Fudan-India Foundation 4th Annual Bilateral Dialogue at Shanghai

India Foundation Delegation undertook an academic visit to China from 11th to 16th July, 2017 as a part of the 4th round of Fudan University - India Foundation Dialogue on the theme “India-China Relations in Transition”. Capt Alok Bansal, Director, India Foundation led the India Foundation delegation while Prof Zhang Jiadong, Director for South Asian Studies, Fudan University led the Chinese side. At Kunming, Prof. Zhu Cuiping of Research Institute of Indian Ocean Economies at Yunnan University of Finance &Economics steered the deliberations. The other members of the India Foundation Delegation were Shri Shakti Sinha, Director, Nehru Memorial Museum & Library, New Delhi; Shri P. Stobdan, Senior Fellow, IDSA & former ambassador; Shri Prafulla Ketkar, Editor, Organiser; Prof. Nani Mahanta, Gauhati University; Dr. Shristi Pukhrem Senior Research Fellow, India Foundation and Siddharth Singh, Research Fellow, India Foundation.

During the visit, India Foundation delegation interacted with academics & scholars of Fudan University. The interaction witnessed scholarly and candid exchange of views from both sides on critical issues such as Sino-India relations in the changing international system, cooperation & competition between India and China in South Asia & Southeast Asia, Sino-India cooperation in multilateral forums, Doklam stand-off and prospective solutions to the way forward for relations between two countries.

Inaugural Session

Prof. Zhang Jiadong, Director of Center for South Asian Studies, IIS, Fudan University, chaired the inaugural session and welcomed all the delegates. In his inaugural address Professor Wu Xinbo, Executive Dean of Institute of International Studies, Fudan University highlighted three issues which are important for China in 2017- a) 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, b) Belt & Road Initiative of China, c) Innovation, Green Development & Progress. Prof. Wu Xinbo also suggested that “to better manage disputes and differences, it is now imperative to build trust between Beijing and New Delhi. The foreign policy and strategic circles of the two countries need to maintain dialogues and communications on a regular basis. Equally important, people-to-people exchanges are indispensable to consolidate better understanding of the will of the people of the two countries.”

Capt. Alok Bansal, Director, India Foundation, in his Special Address emphasised the importance of furthering bilateral relations and consolidating the developmental partnership, which was established during the visit of Chinese President Mr. Xi Jinping to India in September 2014 and subsequently during the visit of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi to China in May 2015. He also highlighted the cooperation between India and China in various multilateral frameworks like AIIB, G-20 and BRICS. On the Doklam stand-off, Capt. Bansal put across the Indian point of view and the apprehensions on the issue in unambiguous terms. He also highlighted that it is essential for all concerned parties to display utmost restraint and abide by their respective bilateral understandings and not to change the status quo unilaterally. Capt. Bansal also raised the issue of terrorism and said that India and China cannot afford to have differences on terrorism. He raised the need to designate Jaish-e-Mohammad Chief Masood Azhar as a terrorist at the U.N. on which all other countries except China and Pakistan have agreed.

The Keynote address was delivered by Major General ZHU Chenghu (Retd). His address mainly focused on recent Doklam stand-off between India and China on the border. He alleged that “the Indian border troops crossed the China-India boundary at the Sikkim section and entered the Chinese territory and had obstructed Chinese border troops’ activities in Doklam. Maj Gen Zhu refereed to the treaty of 1890 in which the Sikkim section of the China-India boundary was defined by the Convention between Great Britain and China relating to Sikkim and Tibet. In his final remarks, Major Gen Zhu suggested that Indian side should follow the boundary convention as per treaty of 1890, respect the China’s territorial sovereignty and thus Indian troops should immediately withdraw from the disputed border to safeguard peace and tranquillity.

Session-I

This session focussed on “Sino-India Relations in the changing International System”. Capt. Alok Bansal started the deliberation by talking about the setback to the globalisation. To him, the difference that exists today between India and China is a dispute. In the larger context, there are two biggest threats to both the countries and the world - climate change and terrorism. With regard to terrorism, it is the threat from non-state actors. For every act of terrorism there is a theological narrative. In the light of this, India and China should evolve a common strategy to counter this threat.

Shri Shakti Sinha said that tranquillity along the India-China border was an important prerequisite for a peaceful relationship with China against the backdrop of a tense military standoff between countries on the Doklam plateau in the Sikkim sector. He highlighted that Beijing’s external aggression is also an outcome of its increasingly nationalistic domestic politics under President Xi, who is heading into an important Party Congress in November. Shri Sinha underlined that so far India has been mature in its approach to the stand-off, providing no provocation to the Chinese by any military movement or through its official statements. He said that the dispute in Doklam area is not a new phenomenon. He emphasised that China’s road construction in Doklam is a deliberate move to trigger a response from Bhutan and from India. Through its actions, China seeks to impose its own definition of the tri-junction point of the boundary between Bhutan, China and India (Sikkim). The move has serious security ramifications for both Bhutan and India’s defence interests.

Prof. LONG Xingchun flagged the importance of issues related to the Indian Ocean. He also mentioned about the current border disputes (Doklam incident) and condemned it.  Prof. Xingchun especially pointed out the statement given by the Indian defense minister who said that the response from the Indian side will no longer be similar to that of 1962 conflict.

Amb. P. Stobdan took off the discussion by talking about how the world is changing since the last six to seven months. He specifically mentioned regarding how the European Union (EU) taking a confrontationist line with the United States (US). According to him, climate change and international trade have become two of the most important features of the international system. Further, the situation in the Middle East cannot be ignored. On India-China relations, he said that the changes have come because of structural differences. The foundation of India-China relations is missing today. In order to strengthen the ties, there is a need to build relations on strategic trust. Citing the examples of Bollywood movies, namely 3 Idiots and Dangal which are very popular in China, he said cinema could be used as a medium to develop further ties between the two countries. Talking on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), India is an infrastructure investment part of the AIIB. He said BRI should respect the territorial integrity of India. Responding to the Chinese delegation’s concerns, Amb. Stobdan clarified that India-US relations should not be considered as a constraining factor in India-china ties. He summed up by expressing India’s firm stand to continue maintaining the status quo with regard to the Doklam incident.

In his remarks, Prof. Guo Xuetang said that the current stalemate between India and china is a period of trust deficit. He also talked about PM Narendra Modi’s foreign policy, and the importance the Indian government gives to neighbourhood policy and “extended neighbourhood”. Alongside this, PM Modi’s economic policy and efforts to improve living standard was highlighted by the speaker. Dr. Huang Yinghong pointed out the weakness in India-China economic and cultural relations. These two factors remain too weak to improve the overall ties. However, he did not rule out the potentials and benefits of economic cooperation. He concluded by saying that both countries should maintain the strategic and security compatibilities which are necessary.

Prof. Hu Zhiyong talked about cooperation and confrontation between India and China in Southeast Asia. He also mentioned about how Southeast China connects India and the Pacific. On political arena, he spoke of India’s role in the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), and also the emphasis given by New Delhi on Act East Policy. The differences in trade ties between India and ASEAN and China and a few of the ASEAN countries were also highlighted by him. Lack of connectivity between India and ASEAN, according to the speaker, is the biggest obstacle. India’s increasing role in the South China Sea has been considered by him as a factor for the competition between India and China in this region. In concluding remarks, he identified areas of cooperation between India, China and ASEAN: 1) Build mutual political trust, 2) Increase more contacts, 3) Develop the triangular friendly partners among China, India and the ASEAN countries, and, 4) Close the gaps between these countries.

Section-II

This session was devoted to “Cooperation and Competition between China and India in South Asia and Southeast Asia”. The following was discussed:

l  The internal or the domestic factors should not be ignored while discussing India-China bilateral relations.

l  Strategic differences should be managed.

l  Relations should not only be looked from the prisms of geopolitics or geo-economics but also from the geo-civilisational paradigm.

l  There is a requirement that the Asian parameter (India and China) should not be studied only on ideological terms but from the strategic perspectives of both Confucianism and Hinduism.

Both sides of the delegation discussed how to cooperate more and compete less. There was also a view that ASEAN could be a common platform where India and China could cooperate. Notwithstanding the significant role China is already playing with some of the ASEAN countries, India should also strive further to engage more constructively with these countries, in line with the present Indian government’s Act East Policy. The concept of Indo-Pacific was adequately discussed and some even highlighted the role of India and China as prominent players. In this regard, their cooperation and competition in the Indo-Pacific region were flagged.

Session-III

In this session the conference discussed “CPEC and Sino-India relations”. Indian delegates made it clear to Chinese side that connectivity projects must be pursued in a manner that respects sovereignty and territorial integrity. Since China as a country is very sensitive to its own sovereignty, it must also show the same sensitivity when it comes to India. Indian delegates also made it clear that “Connectivity initiatives must be based on universally recognised international norms, rule of law, openness, transparency and equality. Connectivity initiatives must follow principles of financial responsibility to avoid projects that would create unsustainable debt burden for communities; balanced ecological and environmental protection and preservation standards; transparent assessment of project costs; and skill and technology transfer to help long term running and maintenance of the assets created by local communities. Any connectivity projects in the territory which is constitutionally a part of India and not part of Pakistan must be pursued in a manner that respects sovereignty and territorial integrity of India.”

Shri Shakti Sinha, in  his presentation, mentioned that China’s aggressive pushing of its One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative, particularly in the countries in India’s neighbourhood has created substantial disquiet as it has domestic (as in host country) political implications. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) would pass over territory that is legitimately India’s but in unlawful occupation of Pakistan; a departure from China’s stand at multilateral financial institutions where it objects to any project in any territory over which it lays claim.

Session-IV

This session focussed on “Sino-India Cooperation in International Multilateral Arena”. The discussion was embedded in optimism about the broad changes in the international relations paradigm, but a cautious optimism that took into account the various aberrations that stand in the way of global security and stability. Ultimately, as was noted, geopolitical rivalries have existed for over a long period of time in the world politics and will continue, but what is at stake is how countries like India and China adjust the relativities in the changing global order and agreed that the international situation is in flux and both India and China have been beneficiaries of a stable and open international system and at this time probably one thing that both countries could do together was a more stable, substantive, forward looking India-China relationship which would inject a greater amount of predictability into the international system. Indian delegates highlighted that future progress in strategic cooperation between China and India in the changing international order in the next decade or beyond will be determined by the will, and more importantly, concerted efforts of the two countries. Indian leadership is devoted to developing healthy and stable China-India relations on the basis of equality and mutual benefit, enriching strategic cooperation and expanding the convergence of interests. Such commitment is required from both sides if the two countries are to avoid the tragedy of the rise of other major powers, break the shackles of geopolitical calculation and jointly shape a future of mutual benefit and common prosperity.

The delegation of India Foundation also visited Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences in Shanghai and Research Institute of Indian Ocean Economies at Yunnan University of Finance & Economics in Kunming. At both the places, during the discussions, delegates from both sides discussed a wide canvass of issues affecting India and China relations including the ongoing border standoff in Doklam area. The Chinese delegates raised the current issue of Doklam stand-off in their presentation. The Indian delegates put across the Indian point of view and the apprehensions on the issue on our side.

Apart from the Doklam stand-off, discussions were mainly held on the issues of India-China relations in the changing international system, cooperation and competition between China and India in South Asia & Southeast Asia, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and India-China cooperation in international multilateral arena. The discussions were held in an amicable atmosphere and the delegation put across points related to the politico, economic, cultural and security aspects pertaining to India-China relations. Both India and China have a long civilisational legacy and no third actor should determine the bilateral ties, was the general sentiment on both the sides. The need to address and respect each other concerns both on sovereignty and maritime front was also underscored. Both sides expressed their desire of bettering ties between the two countries because improved relations between two countries are in the interest of both India and China and of the global community.

(This report is carried in the print edition of September-October 2017 issue of India Foundation Journal.)

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