Monday, April 12, 2010
My speech at the India-China Development Forum, Beijing
The following is the text of my speech at the India-China Development Forum in Beijing on March 30, 2010:
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen.
It is a pleasure and a privilege to be here today at the India-China Development Forum. I feel deeply honoured for being given the opportunity to share some thoughts with such a distinguished gathering of diplomats, officials and mediapersons.
Let me begin by quoting from the Book of Changes, or I Ching, an amazing collection of the distilled wisdom of ancient wise men of China.
“Friendship from outside is auspicious.”
I stand here today as a friend of the people of China. And I say this with confidence: My country desires abiding friendship with China -- a friendship between equals based on mutual understanding and respect, a friendship fashioned after shared concerns. Relations between nations are no doubt determined by self-interest; let ours be determined by enlightened self-interest.
There are two ways of looking at India-China relations. We can look at our bilateral relations through the prism of the past, or we can look at it from the perspective of the future. Either way, we would do so from the vantage position of the present.
Without going into the details of India-China relations as they stand today, for instance expanding trade, investment, etc, which others will no doubt do during the course of the day, I would like to point out the imperatives of greater proximity between New Delhi and Beijing and why our two countries should work towards a paradigm shift in bilateral relations as we enter the second decade of the 21st century.
History tells us that India and China are not only the two greatest civilisations of the East, but that we set the benchmark for civilisational excellence which is universally recognised.
Our two countries are divided by a border that stretches for 3,600 km. Yet, daunting as that may sound, it has not prevented travel and trade between India and China; our interaction is not of recent vintage, just as we are not nations born 100, 200 or 300 or even 500 years ago.
This is only to underscore the point that we are matured civilisations and not arrivistes trying to make their presence felt in global affairs.
However, the past cannot be the full story; nor can the present entirely dominate our thinking – at least it should not.
It is expected of matured civilisations to weave a rich tapestry using facts of history, the realities of today and, perhaps most important, a shared vision of the future. This is by no means an easy task and will require tremendous effort and determination by both sides to accomplish.
Emperor Qianlong had a simple yet instructive message inscribed on a plaque that hung above his throne: “The way of heaven is profound and mysterious. The way of mankind is difficult.” Great nations would acknowledge this reality, and then set about the job of overcoming this difficulty.
We are fast moving towards a future where India and China, with nearly 40 per cent of the world’s population, will together dominate the global economy. The only other country of proximate significance will be the US, but that is inconsequential to why we have gathered here today.
However, emerging as powerful economies by itself will perhaps not serve any larger purpose. That would be served if India and China were to forge a strategic partnership, one which goes beyond our stated intent and helps us strategise the realities of tomorrow’s world, factoring in the imperatives of 2025 or maybe even beyond.
Enhanced trade and cooperation are no doubt important components of the matrix of such a relationship. But there are others too. Dealing with terrorism, whose manifestation continues to mutate with each passing day, is one of them. The other is global warming and its consequences.
Why do I specifically mention these two points? Because, in India there are serious concerns about both issues, and these are often reflected in the media’s coverage.
Let me first dwell on the issue of terrorism – it poses a serious threat to India; it also poses a threat to China. The terrorist threat we face emanates from Pakistan and there is incontrovertible proof of Pakistan’s complicit role. It is in this context that questions are often raised in India with regard to the nature of relations between China and Pakistan, especially when those relations are to do with military and strategic affairs.
Frankly, it is entirely up to China to determine the nature of its relationship with Pakistan. That’s your sovereign right, just as it is India’s sovereign right to determine the nature of its relationship with any country. But China’s relationship with Pakistan does cause serious concern in India, and is often the subject of media criticism. Therefore, we must factor in this point of view.
Second, we have certain concerns over global warming and its consequences, especially the impact of climate change on shared rivers and glaciers that feed them. We believe there is urgent need for joint management of shared rivers and joint study of melting of glaciers that feed those rivers.
There is need for transparency in collection and sharing of data, especially data related to glaciers. The two countries should be open to cooperation by way of sharing of information and river management. There has been some movement on this front, but it’s not sufficient. That would be possible when we take our relationship to a new level.
Let me reiterate, India’s friendship will augur well for China just as China’s friendship would augur well for us.
The Book of Changes informs us, “No matter how smooth it is, there are always slopes.”
It would be absurd to suggest that there are no differences between India and China, that there are no disagreements, that there are no divergent views and opinions. Of course there are. No relationship is without differences and disagreements.
The biggest disagreement, as we all know, is over stretches of our border. Both countries have done the right thing to set up a joint mechanism to deal with this issue while moving ahead on other fronts.
This does not mean the problem has been brushed under the carpet, but that we have not allowed ourselves to be overwhelmed by it. That is being pragmatic; that is being mindful of our mutual enlightened self interests.
The test of true friendship is whether friends are honest with, and can freely speak their minds to, each other.
We could flatter you, as some countries indeed flatter you, but that would be unwise. It would definitely not be a sign of true friendship between India and China.
“To accept flattery is good for a base person,” the Book of Changes alerts us, “but it might ill inform a great person.”
China, to my mind – and the mind of most Indians – is a great nation which should be wary of flattery.
Friends can also be keen competitors. Friendship and competition are not mutually exclusive, nor do they clash with overarching shared interests. After all, within China provinces compete with each other, as they do in India, for investment. If we are competing for investment, for trade, for commerce, we are doing so without any sense of ill-will.
Nor does competition exclude collaboration. We believe that the world is big enough for us to compete with others and yet collaborate with them on key issues of mutual concern. Nurturing a relationship such as this, as I have mentioned earlier, will take a lot of effort and investment – both literally and metaphorically.
There will be naysayers and those who will insist that competition and collaboration cannot co-exit. We need not be deterred by them.
For, as the Book of Changes says, “Prediction will show that the expedition is dangerous. But do not intend to save the expenditure; instead, you must increase it.”
I do believe that taking our bilateral relationship to a new level in tune with the realities of 2025 and beyond will require a joint expedition, in which both India and China will have to invest heavily in more ways than one. If we hit a slope, as the Book of Changes tells us, we should just ignore it. Instead, we should increase the investment in our relationship and move on.
The Book of Changes cautions us: “Give rein to your emotion. If not, disaster is ahead. There is no benefit whatsoever.”
After 28 years of working for various newspapers and being associated with media in India and abroad, I would call upon professional colleagues in India and China to avoid the temptation of episodic, knee-jerk reactions.
I understand that there is often consternation in Beijing about what appears in Indian newspapers or is broadcast by Indian news television. However, it must be understood, and this is important, that media in India enjoys full freedom.
It would also be useful if friends in China were to understand that there are often occasions when both the Government and the people of India are equally, if not more, upset over what appears in the Chinese media. There were several such occasions last year.
I wouldn’t want to mention specific instances as that would serve no purpose. Suffice to say emotional commentary in media is indistinguishable from irrational criticism; neither is desirable. This is as true for Indian media as it is for Chinese media.
I would, therefore, urge media to be responsible and exercise restraint even when the temptation to be sensational and dramatic is great. I would also call upon intellectuals, opinion-makers and scholars attached to think-tanks to avoid language that is inflammatory and neither does service to their country nor promotes national interest.
Let me conclude with an explanation as to why I have repeatedly referred to the Book of Changes in my comments today.
Standing in front of Bao He Dian, or the Hall of Preserved Harmony, in the Forbidden City, on Monday morning, my eyes fell on a board providing information to tourists. Out of sheer curiosity, I walked up to the board and read the information. At the very end, there was this profound sentence from the Book of Changes which was one of the guiding principles of the Emperors who conducted affairs of state from this hall:
“Maintain harmony between all things on Earth to have a long period of peace and stability.”
We need peace, we need stability. Because, without peace and stability, we cannot prosper – as two nations, two peoples, two neighbours.
Our ancient wise men knew the importance of peace and stability. They also knew how to ensure peace and stability: By maintaining harmony.
I am confident that both India and China will continue to maintain a harmonious relationship, and seek to harmonise differences, to ensure peace and stability so that the people of both countries can prosper.