January 19, 2020
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For The Record

'Cannot Afford To Have A Relationship Of Antagonism'

'The Government of India does not view China or China’s development as a threat. We have always tried to develop a friendly and cooperative relationship with China, which is our largest neighbour'

'Cannot Afford To Have A Relationship Of Antagonism'

Extracts from the valedictory address by Shashi Tharoor, Minister of State for External Affairs at the International Conference on the theme of “Emerging China: Prospects for Partnership in Asia” November 22, 2009, New Delhi under the auspices of the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) and the Association of Asia Scholars (AAS)

As witnesses to history in the making, it is important for all of us to share our ideas and understandings in order to deal with the new challenges and to take advantage of the enormous opportunities brought about by the changes taking place in Asia. A conference dedicated to the theme of “Emerging China: Prospects for Partnership in Asia” is therefore timely. 

I also appreciate the fact that the ICWA and AAS have jointly taken the initiative to organize a Series of Conferences on Asian Relations, starting with this very Conference. It is befitting that the ICWA should steer this process. Way back in 1947, even before India and several nations in Asia were yet to throw off the colonial yoke, when China was still in the throes of an uncertain civil war, and when Asia got no more than a footnote in any chapter on global politics and economics, this distinguished institute, under the inspiration of Shri Jawaharlal Nehru, organized a visionary “Asian Relations Conference”. Many of the tenets of that endeavour are closer to being a reality today, with the process of Asia’s economic integration and interdependence already in motion and the alignments for an inclusive Asian Community beginning to shape up. Meanwhile, the centre of gravity of the world economy has begun to shift eastwards to Asia, propelled first by the Asian Tigers and now, if I am permitted to continue the metaphor, increasingly by the Dragon and the Elephant. In these exciting times, it is once again the ICWA that attempts to nurture an Asian understanding of the changing Asia through this commendable series of conferences.

Returning to the theme of this conference, let me point out that China’s emergence, much like the emergence of the rest of Asia, including India, is not an altogether new phenomenon. As ancient civilizations, China and India have remained constants in the long course of history. Economic historians tell us that before the Industrial Revolution in the West, China, together with India, accounted for over half of the world GDP. Autarky in China and feudal infighting in India prevented the two countries from maintaining this lead and reaping the fruits of industrialization and global commerce. After two centuries of colonial or semi-colonial rule, both China and India, uncertain of the global environment in a Cold War world, initially experimented with planned growth that focused on acquiring self-reliance. But both of us realized the limitations of this approach -- China in the late 1970s and we in the early 1990s -- and opened up our respective economies for foreign trade and investment. At the same time, the enabling domestic infrastructure and the institutions that both our countries had evolved before embarking on economic reforms created the symbiotic attractions for foreign investors. We were also benefited by the forces of globalisation in our return to the global stage.

I am speaking about India and China together, not because I accept the glib idea of “Chindia”, but because our growth stories and growth trajectories are similar. China and India are two countries whose development will have a significant impact on the global system, and on the world’s sense of where international economic and political power will shift in the decades to come. We are the most populous nations on the earth, with the arduous task of uplifting millions of our citizens and realizing social harmony and inclusive growth. Given the scale of our economies and the scale of the ‘catching-up’ required, this is likely to be a long-drawn out process, in which China is clearly well ahead. Both of us, though, require sustained international cooperation and a peaceful security environment around us in order to fulfil this task. Currently, in a world faced with a rare economic and financial crisis and tenacious new threats and challenges, our job has become all the more difficult. Therefore, as responsible nations with a stake in peace, stability and prosperity of the world, both India and China must strive to tackle the new challenges together while helping the global economy out of a recession that had nothing to do with us. The continued growth of our two economies have proved vital to the health of the world economy, and that in itself is a most eloquent proof of the prospects for the world and Asia of an emerging China, and may I add, an emerging India.

The Government of India does not view China or China’s development as a threat. We have always tried to develop a friendly and cooperative relationship with China, which is our largest neighbour and with which we cannot afford to have a relationship of antagonism. Long before the India-China growth story attracted global attention, we drew upon our civilizational wisdom to enunciate the principles of Panchsheel that demonstrated our interest in building peace and friendship. Our relationship has since evolved to a point where we now have a Strategic and Cooperative Partnership for Peace and Prosperity and a Shared Vision for the 21st Century with China. Indeed, our relationships have become so multifaceted, strategic and intricate that the nature of stakeholders in our relations have changed and broadened to include the wider civil society in both nations.

We do have differences in some areas, notably over the border between our countries. I believe dialogue and diplomacy hold the key to resolving these differences. We decided more than two decades ago not to let such issues come in the way of cooperation in functional areas, even as we try to find solutions to our differences. This has helped our two sides in our common quest for peace and prosperity. The border has been largely peaceful and tranquil, while China has emerged as our largest trading partner, at over $50 billion in annual trade, and the biggest overseas project contractor. Tourism, particularly of Indian pilgrims to the major Hindu holy sites in Tibet, Mount Kailash and Lake Mansarovar, is thriving. Indian information technology firms have opened offices in Shanghai and Hangzhou, and Infosys recruited nine Chinese this year for their headquarters in Bangalore. There are dozens of Chinese engineers working in (and learning from) Indian computer firms and engineering companies from Gurgaon to Bangalore, while Indian software engineers in Chennai and Bangalore support the Chinese telecoms equipment manufacturer Huawei. Seven thousand Indian students are currently studying in China.

It should be our endeavour to consolidate these gains. There is a lot that India and China can achieve by joining hands together, and it will not only be for their interest, but for the common good in Asia and the developing world. India is not an obstacle to China’s aspirations, far less an instrument for its “containment”, as was wrongly suggested by some.

It would certainly help if Chinese scholars and commentators broadened and deepened their understanding of India. Equally, knowledge and scholarship of China in our country needs to be augmented: we need to understand China better. Scholars present here today have an important role to provide a compass to the Government and the public and help us pursue our ‘enlightened self-interest’ with an emerging China. It would help if the media, which has not always been constructive on this issue, plays a more responsible role. I hope a solid beginning has been made through this Conference.

Our Prime Minister has often said that the world is big enough for both India and China to realize their developmental aspirations. I would like to submit that the world is big enough for the whole of Asia to join in aspirations to make the 21st century an Asian Century. We need to look for opportunities, and I like to think that both China and India today present some of these opportunities, for each other as well for others around us.


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