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We must keep pushing the pace of our relationship, Krishna tells China

April 06, 2010 15:34 IST
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On the 60th anniversary of diplomatic ties between India and China, External Affairs Minister S M Krishna spoke of the historic ties between the two counties and pitched for a strong and stable relationship between the two most populous nations on the planet. 

I am on an official visit to China and will be holding discussions tomorrow with my counterpart, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, on a range of bilateral, regional and global issues. My visit coincides with the 60th anniversary of the establishment of India's diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China. To commemorate that anniversary, we are holding a Festival of India in China. I will have the privilege of opening this festival at the Forbidden City tomorrow in the presence of Chinese dignitaries. Quite appropriately, the Indian cultural performance that will take place focuses on our shared heritage of Buddhism.

Most Foreign Ministers, when speaking abroad, articulate their immediate national concerns and interests. With the 60th anniversary very much in my thoughts, I stand before you recalling the rich heritage of our cultural and civilizational interaction and our millennial ties. In that background, I felt it better to address my remarks to the common concerns of India and China and then speak about the future of our cooperation.

What does the 60th anniversary of our ties mean for us? In the late 1940s, when we reached out to each other, India and China had a natural bonding and understood each other's aspirations in a way that nobody else could. As great civilizations that left a major imprint on history, we had both known the oppression of foreign dominance and witnessed the stark decline of our economic strengths. Our pathways to independence were different but the end objective was very similar. India achieved freedom from colonial rule through patient and peaceful political struggle. China, for its part, came through the World War, met the challenge of foreign occupation, and like India, sought to rebuild its social fabric.

Domestic political developments in such large countries necessarily impacted on the international system. Indeed, it was no accident that we produced leaderships with such a strong internationalist outlook. The impact of the internal socio-political changes in India and China on the global polity cannot be overstated. It was their charting of new directions that really shaped the emergence of the post-colonial world order.

Not surprisingly, the post-1945 order was reluctant to recognise the legitimate concerns and interests of these two nations. China, in particular, stood isolated as a result of Cold War politics. In fact, as late as 1954, only 19 nations had recognised the People's Republic of China. India, of course, was among them, having established diplomatic relations with China in April 1950. It was also sensitive to the sentiments of the Chinese people and became an early advocate of the 'one China policy' and of the PRC's admission to the United Nations. Its own bilateral ties with China during this period, that included a historic visit by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1954, also reflected the friendship between the two nations.

In their early years as independent players, the two polities found themselves on the same page on de-colonisation, national sovereignty and independence, and security of states. The Panchasheela, or, the five principles of peaceful co-existence, was their unique contribution to contemporary diplomacy. This period was marked by global crises and flashpoints, some like Korea and the Taiwan Straits that directly affected Chinese security, and others like Vietnam and the Suez which were issues of basic principles. India and China stood shoulder to shoulder and the Bandung Conference was the high watermark of that era. In celebrating 60 years of diplomatic ties, we obviously seek to honour and uphold that tradition of working together. The younger generation may well be unaware of it and it is our duty to remind them so that the spirit of cooperation can be even stronger. Therefore, our endeavour is to draw inspiration from those early years of our existence as independent nations to cooperate more closely in the future.

In the 1980s, having overcome initial challenges, India and China saw that rapid economic growth would give them a stronger voice in the international community. Looking back, it is significant that Rajiv Gandhi actually sought to accelerate India's modernisation just a few years after Deng Xiaoping unveiled his reform policy in China. Unfortunately, it took us another decade to evolve a national consensus. But the point that I wish to underline is that the architects of modernisation and reform in both countries -- Rajiv Gandhi and Deng Xiaoping -- were also the prime movers of normalising our ties after a difficult interregnum.

Rajiv Gandhi's 1988 visit to China was the landmark event that put our ties on their present course. The underlying assumption that was clearly shared by both leaders was of the importance of growth at home and of cooperation abroad. Those still remain our guiding principles.

Getting our growth strategy right in an ever-changing world has its own challenges. As India and China manage their domestic priorities well, it has huge implications for global prosperity. After all, between them, they are raising the living standard of almost one-third of humanity. When the question is raised about what we are doing for the world, it is often forgotten that our domestic development itself has world-wide effect.

In the last two decades, we have impacted significantly on global per-capita income, longevity and human development. Given the scale of what is underway, there is much that can be gained through our close cooperation. The economic models of India and China may be very different. But an exchange of best practices can still benefit both countries. After all, we do face similar challenges of urbanisation, resource consumption, food and energy security, inclusive growth and skills development.

The paradigm of co-existence has today been enhanced by more active engagement. But this is still not adequate. We must ask ourselves whether as neighbours and partners, each of whom are large and rising economies, are we making the best of opportunities? Put bluntly, is it possible that India and China can leverage each others' strengths? After all, in their own past history, both nations have leapfrogged using international relationships. There is a huge infrastructure demand in India, covering sectors like power, roads, rail and telecommunications. In the recent budget, 46 percent of the total plan allocations are assigned for physical infrastructure development.

China has actually carried out many of the changes that India is still contemplating. As a result, it has capacities but less domestic demand. There is considerable scope for joint projects as we master the practice of working harmoniously together. On the Chinese side, the outsourcing of IT by state enterprises has only started recently. There is a potential waiting to be tapped, which would happen only by connecting Chinese users to Indian providers.

I am meeting representatives of Indian businesses in China later today and will encourage them to be creative in exploring opportunities here. We strongly feel that the India-China relationship is grossly under-realised and the capacities for expansion are enormous.

Like other major states who made the same journey earlier, India and China seek a secure and peaceful environment that allows them to focus on their growth prospects. In this regard, we must always remember that the two countries are each part of the other's immediate periphery. Just by ensuring stability and promoting prosperity at home, we are actually serving each others' interest.

What are the challenges to our peaceful periphery? They are actually not very different from the problems that we face at home. These emanate from two central issues -- material poverty and intellectual poverty. To the extent that we can raise living standards rapidly at home and encourage similar progress in our neighbourhood, we will be more secure and stable. The more complex challenge is that of ideas. As pluralistic societies, we are threatened by political ideologies that are based on narrow loyalties, often justified by distorting religious beliefs. These forces are against progress and modernity and have only brought misery wherever they have dominated.

States that use them as instruments to advance their political interests find themselves consumed by these very destructive ideas. For both of us, stability at home stands in sharp contrast to extreme instability in our shared neighbourhood. We cannot afford to be passive spectators. It is critical for our future that we cooperate actively in meeting common challenges. Our ties were never a zero sum game. Today, it is all the more important that we take an enlightened and long-term view of our self-interest.

A strong and stable relationship between India and China has consequences for the entire world. Because we are different, our divergences are often exaggerated. If truth be told, there are vested interests at work too. India and China must not just cooperate; they must be seen to be doing so by the rest of the world. Our Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, often emphasises that the world is large enough to accommodate the aspirations of both countries.

But this is not an inevitable outcome. It is a goal that requires strong political will, sustained engagement and a high degree of mutual sensitivity. What can we do to make this cooperation stronger? I believe that we need to work on a wide variety of fronts as progress on one will reinforce in the other.

A number of dialogues and forums already exist between India and China that need to keep meeting regularly and productively. These include mechanisms where we discuss bilateral, regional and global political issues. We have a separate set of talks for the boundary question. Annual consultations take place between our foreign offices, defence establishments, policy planners, consular officials and disarmament experts. There are also dedicated bodies to deliberate on trade matters and water management. Regular meetings lead to better communication, more understanding and strengthen confidence. I would, therefore, strongly encourage an intensive and sustained engagement between the two systems.

Far from sliding into complacency, we must keep pushing the pace of the relationship with new ideas and more activity. I was pleased to note that this is already underway. On the political side, the support provided by growing track-2 dialogues is a welcome development. Our military-to-military cooperation is also expanding steadily. In trade, business events in 18 Chinese cities this year with IT, pharmaceuticals, engineering and agro-exports as thrust areas will surely make an impact.

In culture, the Festival of India that will take our performing arts to 33 Chinese cities this year will be equally noteworthy. Growing exchanges of students and tourists speak of changing levels of comfort. Soap operas on Chinese TV and Bollywood dances in local restaurants confirm that we have transcended cultural barriers.

We need to strengthen sentiment at the popular level. The 60th anniversary of our ties itself offers a great opportunity. But this needs to be a continuous and widening process. There are powerful symbols of connectivity between our societies. Xuan Tsang is one from distant history. We are now completing the construction of an Indian temple at the White Horse Temple complex in Luoyang which is associated with him. This will be a powerful symbol of our shared history.

Asia's first Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore too evokes positive sentiments among Chinese intellectuals. His 150th birth anniversary next year offers a unique opportunity to build stronger cultural bonds. We have, of course, examples from more contemporary times like the young and heroic Dr. Kotnis and the Indian medical mission to Yenan. We must appreciate the power of culture to bring about perceptional changes in society as a whole.

India and China have only begun to impact seriously on the world. Just as we advanced de-colonisation and independence movements in the fifties, today we are striving to rewrite the rules of the world a little more in our favour. A reshaping of the global architecture is underway, evident in new groupings like the G-20, BRIC, BASIC and the East Asia Summit. As developing societies, our convergence is manifest on issues like climate change and global trade rules. Given their shared interest in creating a more contemporary order, the two countries can advance their respective interests much better through active cooperation. Indeed, even on the complex issue of UN reform, it is perhaps time for China to review previously held positions and welcome the presence in the Security Council of a nation with which it has much in common.

We have to accept that there will be outstanding issues between the two countries even as our relationship forges ahead. This is in the very nature of global politics and we should not get discouraged as a result. The true test of our maturity is how well we handle our problems. Even on an issue like the unresolved boundary question that is often the subject of media speculation, it is not always appreciated that considerable progress has actually been made. The Peace and Tranquility Agreement of 1993, the Confidence Building Measures of 1996 and the Guiding Principles and Political Parameters of 2005 have all demonstrated that we have the ability to increase convergence and deepen mutual understanding on this complex issue through patient negotiation.

As rising powers, India and China are often projected to have a competitive relationship. In the final analysis, we all are what we want to be. It is upto us to disprove such scenarios, not through platitudes and wishful thinking, but by concrete examples of cooperation. Certainly, there is a strong case for a global issues partnership between India and China as two large developing Asian economies. We can work together on key challenges that will define the 21st century. These include sustainable development, technology exploitation, water usage, climate change, rapid urbanisation, migration, human development and building a pluralistic society.

The 21st century will be increasingly driven by the quality of human resources. As the two largest human resource powers, our cooperation can accelerate that trend.

But there is more to our prospects than issue-based cooperation. Our rise promises to alter the configurations of the global order as we have known it in a fundamental manner. We cannot accept incremental change in the way the world is currently run. The G-20 represents the first step in a new direction. Our combined efforts can help reform the systems of international financial governance much more effectively than we could by working alone. As Asian states, we must recognise that our continent lags behind Europe and the Americas in terms of economic and infrastructural integration and security cooperation.

We have yet to find the right common denominators in many areas. If India and China work purposefully in this direction, the whole world stands to benefit.

The destinies of India and China were linked in the past. The growth of our relationship will be determined by the extent of our awareness that they are linked in the future as well.

S M  Krishna delived this speech at the China Institute of International Studies on Tuesday.

External Affairs Minister S M Krishna with president of the China Institute of International Studies Qu Xing in Beijing.
Photograph: Courtesy MEA

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