Edited text of the Admiral RD Katari Memorial Lecture by the Minister of External
Affairs on November 22, 2003: The Emerging India-China Relationship and ITS Impack on India / South Asia
I have been asked to share a few thoughts with you on one of the most important bilateral relationships we have. Let me begin on a somewhat provocative note by saying that the title of this lecture – "The Emerging India-China Relationship and its Impact on India/South Asia" – represents a particular mind-set that is no longer valid.
This is because first, I think that the relationship between India and China today is mature enough to be seen as having "emerged" rather than "emerging", though in a sense the relations between these two large countries will always remain a work in progress. Secondly, the impact of our relationship is global and to restrict the canvas to South Asia is to limit the scope of our understanding of India-China relations.
Let me substantiate my first contention regarding the maturity of the relationship between India and China. In recent years, relations between India and China have progressively developed and diversified. This is a process that both governments have consciously promoted.
Our Prime Minister’s visit to China marked the beginning of a new phase in the India-China relationship. It was a historic visit, the results of which have surprised many. During the visit, the leaders of the two countries agreed that we should qualitatively enhance the bilateral relationship in all areas, while addressing differences through peaceful means in a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable manner. We agreed that the common interests of the two sides outweigh their differences, and that they are not a threat to each other.
For the first time, the two Prime Ministers signed a Joint Declaration. It is an important document, which outlines the principles and shared perspectives that will guide the future development of our bilateral relations. The Declaration sends a signal to Asia and the world that our two countries are committed to working more closely together, including through our common desire to strengthen the trend towards multi-polarity.
I will illustrate the maturity of the present state of our relations with China with a few observations, which do not attempt to present a comprehensive picture. First, India and China have today extensive dealings in bilateral, regional and multilateral forums. We are seeking improved relations with each other without pre-conditions.
We continue to have differences, including an unresolved boundary issue, but over the
years, we have, together, evolved a remarkable matrix of relations, under which we have consciously decided to
"compartmentalise" our differences and address them without letting them come in the way of the
development of relations in other areas. We have not allowed our differences to define our relationship. It is
a pragmatic model of inter-state relations, which has obvious relevance in other situations, including in our
dealings with Pakistan.
Secondly, it is a relationship that is characterised by a strong political commitment, and indeed investment, by the leaderships of the two countries. This is evident in the pattern of high-level exchanges. There is no objective reason for discord between us. We also believe that mutual exclusion or containment is not a valid policy choice.
At the same time, we are fully aware that there is a deficit of trust, which must be addressed as the two countries move towards their shared vision of a constructive and cooperative partnership. Our Prime Minister’s visit to China represented a major step forward in that direction.
Thirdly, the level of mutual understanding that has been achieved is exemplified by our success in maintaining peace and tranquillity along the border. It is no mean achievement considering that we have a common border that extends for almost 3500 kilometres and where there are clear differences of perception, both in terms of the boundary and the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
You are aware that in the late 1980s, there was tension along the border, particularly after the Wangdung incident, but the two countries responded in a sensible manner and have over the years carefully put in place an edifice of CBMs, of dialogue and interactions at the diplomatic and border commanders levels, of service-to-service exchanges, including the first-ever joint search and rescue exercise conducted by our Navies only a week ago.
This has helped preserve and reinforce peace, tranquillity and indeed amity in border areas. We are engaged in clarifying the LAC, a process that must be expedited. During the Prime Minister’s visit to China, the two Prime Ministers appointed their Special Representatives to explore the framework of a boundary settlement from the political perspective of the overall bilateral relationship. It is an issue I will return to a little later in my talk.
Fourthly, bilateral economic and commercial interactions have acquired an altogether new dimension now. Possibly for the first time in the exchanges between India and China since our independence, we have now a significant economic aspect to this relationship. Our bilateral trade has shot up from around US $ 200 million in the early nineties to around US $ 5 billion in 2002, and this year we hope to reach US $ 7 billion.
Indian business and industry have overcome their initial cultural and commercial
apprehensions of Chinese business and are strengthening their linkages in a pro-active manner. Enhanced trade
and investment linkages not only make great economic sense but also provide ballast to the political
relationship; mutual economic stakes will be a factor of stability in a relationship, which has seen many ups
and downs in the past.
Finally, the India-China dialogue already transcends bilateral relations to encompass international issues such as security, environment and sustainable development. These are being discussed through dialogue mechanisms which have recently been extended to new subjects such as counter terrorism and policy planning.
Our deliberations in these forums have revealed a growing convergence of views on key issues, including on terrorism. We have an increasing commonality of interests within the WTO and overlapping concerns on globalisation, as was evident at the recent ministerial meeting at Cancun. Our coordination and collaboration in various multilateral institutions is expanding into newer and newer areas.
Both countries seek to reinforce multilateralism and multi-polarity. The concept of multi-polarity must not, however, be mistaken for creating poles in opposition to each other. We do not want to reinvent the confrontationist model of the Cold War. Both India and China look upon the next twenty years as a window of strategic opportunity to raise the living standards of their peoples.
It is clear that as in India, there is also a need felt in China to improve the bilateral relations. This is not only because together we represent one-third of humanity. This has much to do with the changing perceptions about India, her economic success, her achievements in the field of science and technology, and global reach and dynamism of her foreign policy.
It is also a factor of our steadily improving relations with the United States, the continued strategic partnership with Russia, our comprehensive partnership relations with the EU and its constituents, and our initiatives in West Asia, CIS countries, Africa and Latin America. It also has to do with our improving relations with other Asian countries, particularly ASEAN.
It has to do with the increasing scope of potential cooperation between India and China in regional and multilateral forums, as we face new global challenges such as terrorism, drugs and piracy, as well as dangers in the fields of public health, environment, etc. It has to do with the fact that we are both in the forefront of developing countries and have similar approaches to many global and regional issues.
It is clear that both India and China respect each other’s independent foreign policies and are adjusting their relationship to take into account the new global realities, each other’s growth as vibrant nations and economies and also in response to the dynamics operating regionally and globally.
Let me also clarify here what does not drive our relations with China. There are some who argue that India’s relations with the United States could be used as a counterforce against China. We categorically reject such notions based on outmoded concepts like balance of power. We do not seek to develop relations with one country to ‘counterbalance’ another.
We value our relations with both China and the USA and both relationships have their own compelling logic. We must also debunk the theory that India’s ‘Look East’ policy of greater engagement with ASEAN is somehow aimed at containing China. Indeed, as I have stated at other forums recently, we have now entered Phase-II of the ‘Look East’ policy, which encompasses not only the ASEAN Ten but also China, Japan, and other countries of East Asia, including Australia and New Zealand.
I would also like to reiterate, what I have said earlier, that we reject the theory that a conflict between India and China is inevitable. India neither pursues nor makes policy towards China based on the belief that the conflict between the two is inevitable. India’s approach to China is and will remain forward-looking and full of optimism. It will not be driven by a sense of either fear or envy.
We are convinced that both countries can grow strong and prosperous in partnership rather than in conflict, and maintain their independence and national character in the process. While it is undeniable that China and India are in some sense competitors, it is also clear that, just as the US and Europe, we can be both partners and competitors at the same time. All that is required is that this competition be healthy.
This also relates to the level and rate of success achieved by the different development paradigms followed by India and China. While China may be seen by some as currently being ahead in this competition, India’s success is clearly recognised and better understood now nationally and internationally than before. The management of this competition is the challenge and the Joint Declaration signed during Prime Minister’s visit to China provides an agreed via media for that.
Likewise, the argument that the dominant theme of China’s South Asia policy is to prevent the rise of a potential rival or competitor in the form of India is a defeatist argument. There are probably some in our neighbourhood who seek to play their "China connection" or "China card" to "counter" or even "contain" India. The bankruptcy of this approach is however becoming increasingly evident. China cannot objectively be a competitor for India in South Asia.
Destinies of the countries of South Asia are interlinked by the overwhelming logic of history, geography and economics. I believe the current relationship between India and China is certainly beneficial for each other and for South Asia. That India and China have succeeded in maintaining peace and tranquillity on their borders, and are steadily increasing the lines of communication between them, brings a large measure of stability to the region.
We do not and should not judge our relationship with China in the context of our bilateral relations with any other country, whether in the region or outside the region. It also means that other countries need to adjust their own equations with both India and China to factor in the reality that it is no longer a matter of playing one against the other. It must also be recognised that increasing cooperation between India and China in the multilateral arena, which is a sub-set of our current relationship, will also have a positive cascading effect on the region, especially on issues relating to the interests of developing countries.
As I have stated earlier, during Prime Minister’s visit to China in June this year, both
countries agreed to qualitatively enhance their bilateral relationship in all areas and also charted out a
roadmap for doing so. Let me share with you some of my thoughts on what can be done by India and China to
bring about a quantum jump in the relationship.
While the basic paradigm of the relationship – of seeking improved relations at all levels and in diverse areas while addressing differences – remains valid, the time has perhaps come to deal with some of those outstanding issues in a determined manner, without postponing tough decisions for the next generation. We believe the relationship has reached a level of maturity where we can discuss those issues with a greater sense of urgency. This updated paradigm of relationship is both desirable and sustainable.
The initiative on the appointment of the Special Representatives flows from such an assessment. As Prime Minister stated recently, a final resolution of the boundary question is a strategic objective and both countries should be ready to take some pragmatic decisions to achieve it. While India and China agree that their differences should not be allowed to affect the overall development of bilateral relations, there is little doubt that a boundary settlement will give a major boost to the relationship. It will also send a powerful signal to the rest of the world that India and China have broken out of the shackles of the past.
Secondly, the two countries must pay closer attention to each other’s sensitivities and aspirations. This has been agreed to in the Joint Declaration signed by the two Prime Ministers. We have taken a principled position on issues like Tibet and Taiwan, and our position is appreciated by China. We are happy that the understanding reached during Prime Minister’s visit to China started the process by which Sikkim will soon cease to be an issue in India-China relations.
Some aspects of China’s relations with Pakistan, including their nexus in nuclear and missile proliferation, however, continue to cause serious concern in India as they have a direct and negative bearing on our national security environment. We regard China as a friend and we expect friends to show greater sensitivity to our security concerns. It is also important that both countries acknowledge each other’s strengths and aspirations, and try to ensure that each has sufficient strategic space in keeping with the principle of multi-polarity to which both India and China subscribe.
Thirdly, we must be far more pro-active and ambitious in developing our economic partnership by exploiting more fully our complementarities and the new opportunities created by globalisation. Though our bilateral trade has shown an impressive increase in recent years, the turnover is still less than 1% of China’s overall trade, which is expected to reach US $ 800 billion this year. India-China trade is quite inadequate when compared to the complementarities that exist.
For the first time, the business communities of the two countries are seriously looking at each other, with optimism and not with anxiety, and the two Governments must encourage this process with appropriate policy initiatives. Our economic engagement must be commensurate with the fact that India and China have two of the fastest growing economies in the world. A recent report by Goldman Sachs projects that India’s economy will overtake that of France, Germany and Japan in less than thirty years and emerge as the third largest economy in the world in US dollar terms (and not just in Purchasing Power Parity), next only to that of the USA and China.
I believe that we in India must be ambitious, and not excessively cautious. Our experience during the last two-and-a-half-years has shown how our apprehensions regarding Chinese goods overwhelming our manufacturing sector, following the lifting of quantitative restrictions on imports, were greatly exaggerated. This is a matter of some personal satisfaction to me because, as Finance Minister, I was at the receiving end of all this criticism.
I do expect that the India-China Joint Study Group, agreed upon during Prime Minister’s visit, will examine the feasibility of an upgraded bilateral framework for relationship, including a Free Trade Area. I know that some will receive this suggestion with disbelief and regard it as premature, as they did when Prime Minister proposed a framework agreement for a Free Trade Area between India and ASEAN just over a year ago.
But the fact is that we have already concluded a framework FTA with ASEAN. An Asian FTA, including China, Japan and South Korea, apart from ASEAN and India should therefore be within the realm of possibility. Indeed, I am also inclined to believe that in the years to come, India and China will be key partners in regional economic arrangements transcending Asia.
Finally, it is in the interest of both India and China to continue to raise the level of mutual trust and understanding. We must upgrade the quality of our dialogue and continuously address each other’s concerns in a frank but constructive manner, not as adversaries but as friends, convinced that there is no fundamental contradiction in our basic interests.
The degree of positive or negative influence which the actions of other countries can have on the bilateral relationship between India and China is proportional to the level of mutual trust and understanding that exists between us. It is important to continue in the conflict resolution mode that now exists between India and China, and indeed accelerate this process, not only because it is beneficial to us but also because it is beneficial to the region, and to the world.