Event ReportsPublished on Sep 23, 2015
Mr. Arun Shourie, former Union minister and author, thinks that it was time for the India to develop and project itself in consonance with how it wants to be perceived by the world. He said this while delivering lecture on 'Sino-India Relations: The Changing Landscape' at ORF Kolkata.
China's domestic problems need not make us too happy, cautions Shourie

Arun Shourie, former Union minister and author, delivered a lecture on 'Sino-Indian Relations: The Changing Landscape' at ORF Kolkata on 19 September, organised as part of the Distinguished Lecture Series. He stated that it was time for the India to develop and project itself in consonance with how it wants to be perceived by the world.

He pointed out that a constant criticism that India has had to face over many years is that it fails to live up to the commitments made on paper. Because of this, the country loses vital opportunities for building and sustaining constructive relations with other countries, especially with neighbouring ones.

Shourie’s lecture factored in the problems that characterise Sino-Indian relations and the possible ways in which India might address them. He remarked that India should focus within and find ways of strengthening itself, instead of devoting too much attention and time to what is wrong in other countries.

On China, he remarked that the country was going through a great re-adjustment, if not a problem, while transforming itself from an investment-led economy to a consumption-led economy. He cautioned that China’s domestic problem need not make us too happy, for there could be reason for apprehension as well. Faced with an intractable domestic problem, China may well try to redirect popular attention toward a conjured up threat from a neighbour.

Shourie, a reputed newspaper editor, also felt that depending too much on the media for an understanding of what goes on between India and China could be self-defeating, because the media often sensationalises events that require careful consideration and patient handling. He was not willing to accept resolution of problems through agreements, as he believes that bilateral and multilateral agreements are of no use unless the other party knows that violations will have considerable cost.

Shourie argued that for any country, foreign policy is a long drawn out process in which a country gradually and silently creates a strong foundation for claiming authority in the global arena. That is exactly what China has done. From 2008 onwards, China has started to make its weight felt around the region through assertive, even sometimes aggressive, stances. Other countries can learn a lot from the process of China’s rise.

The lecture was followed by observations and comments by discussants.

Gen. Shankar Roychowdhury, former Army chief, highlighted that Zhou En-lai had offered a golden opportunity of dialogue to the-then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, which ultimately did not work out. But he insisted that there is still time to come to a mutual understanding with regard to land borders shared by the two countries and also with regard to maritime issues. He believes that economically, China is a much stronger country. India should boost its own economy and one way of achieving this would be through creating access for Indian manufactured goods in Chinese markets. The speaker felt that it was in the realm of cultural and people-to-people contacts that the two countries were making more progress. The areas in which India and China are in direct competition include Afghanistan and Nepal, where both countries are looking to increase their strategic influence. Tibet and Arunachal Pradesh are also issues that need consideration and resolution. He said India must learn to compete on an equal footing with China.

Manoj Joshi, Distinguished Fellow, ORF, began by remarking that he views Sino-India relations in terms of four C’s - conflict, cooperation, competition and containment. Talking about the first C, conflict, he underscored the presence of Chinese naval vessels in the Indian Ocean on the pretext of countering Somali piracy, which has been non-existent since 2012. This indicates that such presence is aimed at conducting training exercises. He related this maritime concern with China’s interest in the Indian Ocean and its larger policy goals regarding the Maritime Silk Route. He argued that berthing of submarines is more about indicating the presence of that plan than about maintaining maritime stability. On the issue of cooperation, Joshi highlighted the interaction between the two countries in multilateral fora (the BRICS bank, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and India’s recent membership to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization) and in holding joint military exercises. But he said that there remains room for increased cooperation and that China has to play a role in the economic transformation of South and Southeast Asian regions. He added that apart from Zhou En-lai's offer for dialogue, a similar offer was also made by Deng Xiaoping. India, however, refused both and since 2008 China has maintained that the conditions for those offers no longer exist.

Joshi referred to several factors while talking about competition between India and China, observing that China is in many ways, ahead of India. He drew attention to the recently held military parade commemorating China’s victory in WWII, which saw a massive display of weaponry. With regard to containment, he emphasised that though China claims India is part of US-led attempts to contain it, Chinese containment of India in South Asia via its activities in nations like Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Maldives has been a reality for years.

Responding to the lecture and the ensuing discussion, Ma Zhanwu, Consul General of the People’s Republic of China in Kolkata, said that Chinese foreign policy never aims at seeking hegemony, but takes care of its own territorial, sovereign and developmental interests. Elaborating this point, Ma said that the Chinese diplomats strictly adhere to the five principles of peaceful coexistence. China’s foreign policy goals are peace, development, cooperation and win-win strategy (added recently), he explained. He claimed that the islands in the South China Sea were part of Chinese territory, as has been the case for decades, according to Chinese history. He called for more people-to-people exchanges to strengthen relations between India and China. There are differences between them, but a positive approach would help overcome these differences.

Report prepared by Pratnashree Basu, Junior Fellow, ORF Kolkata.

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