Can a genuine Chindia synergy develop?

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s visit to India

There is no reason why it shouldn’t, and every reason why it should, if there is genuine goodwill and farsightedness on both sides. This means looking beyond the short and medium term strategic business, economic and security interests to a longer-term, wider and deeper implication: namely that the two oldest civilizations in the world have a shared responsibility of global leadership by virtue of the accumulated collective wisdom of their sages, of whom the towering Buddha is a beacon for mankind.

The mythology, symbolisms and existential basis of these two great civilizations draw inspiration from and are founded upon a recognition of the role of the natural elements (such as water and fire), and the subtler energy fluxes underlying the universe, namely Shakti and Qi, and which powers everything that exists therein, living and non-living. Further, a comparison of their conceptual approaches and practices relating to the cosmic forces that govern existence will show that there is more that unites than divides them, as acknowledged by the Chinese Premier (although he was referring to more practical matters): ‘Both sides have more interests than differences.’

Long before the idea of holism was articulated in modern terms, the Indian and Chinese civilizations had already reached heights of perfection in the arts and crafts, health and healthy living, philosophy, appropriate technology and other fields that reflected their understanding of nature and humanity as an interconnected, integrated web of wholeness.

That may explain why these two civilizations have continued to this day when others such as for example the Roman, Greek, Egyptian and Babylonian ones have become extinct. Surely the leaders and thinkers of India and China can put their heads together to identify the common threads and strengths that have allowed them to survive despite foreign invasions and upheavals? And why not refine and put them to use again, not only for their two countries but for the world at large? Perhaps an indication that this is in the realm of the possible are the two strong, symbolic signals that the Chinese Premier has sent to the Indian polity on this occasion:

1.    He has chosen India as the first port of call in this his first tour of five Asian countries;

2.    He specially took time off in Mumbai to pay a visit to Ms Manorama Kotnis, the surviving sister of late Dr Kotnis, who worked as a Field Surgeon in China during the Second World War, and remained for some time afterwards to continue his work there. Li Keqiang said in as many words that Dr Kotnis was a symbol of China-India friendship, words which were repeated and acknowledged with great warmth by Ms Kotnis.

Add to these the remark by Li Keqiang that ‘good friends’ India, China can speak with candour, and we can, hopefully, anticipate that much good can come out of this visit which has included a high-level business delegation, and the signing of eight agreements in diverse areas including Kailash Mansarovar pilgrimage, economic agreements, urban development and water management.

As the undisputed leader of his country, Li Keqiang has it within his power to end once for all the irritation that remains as a dark shadow in the background and mars the relations between India and China, namely the periodic border problems that, really, ought not to be. A vastly bigger country than India, China can surely afford to give up the territorial ambitions on Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin which, in terms of size, will not truly add anything to its vastness. The people to people contact that Li has advocated – and which is already taking place – should hopefully lead to a greater mutual empathy that will make border concerns lose their apparent relevance, as the focus on consolidating their ties and partnerships in sectors such as IT, pharmaceuticals, manufacturing and so on lifts them to a new level of dynamism and interaction.

Should it happen, this dramatic transformation of the mindset about the border would probably be of the same order of magnitude as the U-turn to a market economy made by Deng Xiao Ping when he took over from Mao in 1979. This soon enough propulsed China on to the world’s economic stage, as a review of a book on him by historian Ezra Vogel underlined, ‘He confronted the damage wrought by the Cultural Revolution, dissolved Mao’s cult of personality, and loosened the economic and social policies that had stunted China’s growth. Obsessed with modernization and technology, Deng opened trade relations with the West, which lifted hundreds of millions of his countrymen out of poverty.’

Given, as the Indian Prime Minister stated, their ‘many areas of convergence and meeting of minds’ and the fact that over the last 25 years India and China have ‘built a mutual beneficial relationship,’ along with the new agenda that the two leaders have set with a strong commitment to regional and world peace, the ground is laid to see each other’s ‘development as of mutual benefit’ for ‘amicable ties will be positive for Asia and good for Asia providing new engines for the world economy.’ After all, as Li further said,

‘We are one-third of world’s total population and our interactions attract the world. Without doubt, China-India relations are most important global relations.’ Very importantly, Li emphasised that ‘peaceful co-existence between India and China will be of global significance and they should seek cooperation from not afar but closely.’

All this can happen while these two emerging giants pursue their specific geostrategic and geopolitical interests. For example, China has built the Gwadar port in the Balochistan province of Pakistan, and will connect it by rail, road and air routes to China. On the other hand, India is upgrading the Chabahar port on the Iran-Pakistan border. The forays of these two countries through their bilateral and multilateral engagements across the continents are meant to secure their expanding energy needs as well as to help develop infrastructure, capacity and services (among others) in countries where they are involved. The Indian drug manufacturer Cipla, for example, has made available anti-HIV drugs to South Africa at affordable prices.

There is thus a new realism governing the relations between India and China that both can exploit to their greater mutual advantage in a continuing win-win scenario for them, with spillover benefits to the world at large. If this visit, and the proposed return one of the Indian Prime Minister to China can accelerate the process, the combined strength of this one-third of humanity can no doubt have a pull effect on the welfare of peoples across the globe.

* Published in print edition on 24 May 2013

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