India-China Relations & Mamallapuram Spirit

The second informal summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping is being hosted in the historic maritime city of Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram) today. The informal summit will be an opportunity to enhance understanding of each other’s concerns and interests across the spectrum in this unique format. In recent years, India has established the informal format of engagement at the highest level with two major Asian nations – Russia and China. This annual informal format provides a perfect venue to take stock of the global situation, mutual interest and bilateral relationship. Such informal dialogue will prepare both nations for rapidly changing political scenarios. Being tete-a-tete, two leaders and their offices don’t need to worry about the outcome of the meeting or the joint statement. The informal summit can ensure that the relationship stays on a positive trajectory.

Deeper socio-cultural, economic, and political understanding among two normal states can help in building a long-term relationship. (Normal States don’t use terrorism as a policy instrument.) This understanding and trust can further contribute to solving the oldest of the problems. Wuhan summit was a major confidence-building step post-Doklam. The annual informal summit will deepen the understanding at the top level. Its trickle-down effect will widen possibilities for tangible India and China cooperation.

The first summit was held in the industrial city of Wuhan with a nominal GDP of $152billion. This historic city with a riverfront along Yangtze river like Sabarmati in Ahmadabad where PM Modi hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping in his maiden India visit, has emerged as a showcase of China’s economic progress and cultural strength.

Mamallapuram on the eastern coast of India had traditionally been an important seaport in India’s Indo-Pacific outreach. Cultural links, archaeological artefacts, linguistic, and historic records reflect the strong relationship between India and other eastern nations including China in the Indo-Pacific. India’s eastward commercial and diplomatic outreach for thousands of years has brought many nations closer to India. Be it Japan, Korea, China, Vietnam, Indonesia or Thailand the region was never foreign to India. Neither India to them. This constant engagement with eastern nations shaped economies, traditions and culture for long. Act East policy is a continuation of the spirit.

Trust Factor

In the 20th century, the rise of power/s was centred around war engulfing geography beyond its borders. Rise of powers in Europe resulted in World Wars. Rise of America and Russia was centred around the same proposition. Not so long ago, the transition of power within a state was also a bloody affair. The democratic order within countries changed it for the good.

In the past, India and China contributed to half of the world’s GDP. These two civilisational nations are once again on an upward trajectory. With the underpinning of technology, Asia can become a model for the rise of nations without conflict. Such democratic, multipolar, transparent world order will benefit individuals as well as nations.

In 1990s Deng Xiaoping said, ‘hide our capabilities and bide our time’ for China’s rise in the world. In a span of two decades, China’s actions suggest a changed strategy of ‘project our capabilities and bide our time’. Suspicion about China’s rise is a point of contention for many. How China will clear this mistrust will largely define the actions of other players in the world. Building trust founded on corroborating ‘words and actions’ will be valuable for a different and interconnected world.

China demands just and equitable global order under the umbrella of the United Nations. China should further this goal by supporting Brazil, India, Japan, Germany in their United Nations Security Council membership bid. With India, the partnership can deepen further with clear support for India’s membership for Nuclear Suppliers Group.

Commerce Connect

India has made successful efforts since 1960 to lower the cost of healthcare for India and emerging economies with generic medicines. Chinese movie ‘Dying to Survive’ testify the role of Indian generic medicines in developing countries. Dying to Service is based on true events and incidents. Greater access for Indian pharma companies in China can help people in their healthcare needs. It will also curb the black marketing of medicines in China.

Cultural exchange is a major thrust area for the people of two countries to understand each other well. China’s import quota on movies obstructs cultural exchange. Relaxing of the quota for Indian movies will provide more choices to the Chinese audience.

Like any other country, a good work of art will always be appreciated by the Chinese audience. Recent movies like Piano Man (Andhadhund) or Tango (Dangal) substantiates the point. While movies that are not entertaining or inspiring enough will be rejected both in India and China. More Indian movies will not lead to audience fatigue, as one report in China suggested. Indian movies can only help in building a better bond among two peoples.

Greater access to Indian pharmaceutical and entertainment industry will contribute to improving the trade deficit between the two countries. A better balance in trade will help China in overcoming the negative image of being unfair trade partner exploiting the market with the dumping of goods. More such efforts of on the trade front will strongly help the relationship.

Geopolitics

Relationships are based on common interest and cannot be based on pitching one against another. Balancing triangles as a counterweight will not allow relationships to evolve to its fullest potential.

Historically two nations exchanged a lot through ocean and land including goods, ideas and culture. Even today such exchange can transform barriers into opportunities to solve common challenges for the wellbeing of the people.

In Singapore, where Indian and Chinese culture have found a meeting point, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said “Asia of rivalry will hold us all back. Asia of cooperation will shape this century. It is a responsibility that both existing and rising powers have. Competition is normal. But contests must not turn into conflict; differences must not be allowed to become disputes.”

Prime Minister also said that India’s foreign policy vision is not shackled by history, but it is tuned for the future of humankind. Without this heavy baggage of history, Prime Minister of India can have a long informal meeting with the President of Russia and address Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok. In same month travel to the United States and address the largest gathering of the Indian diaspora with the President of the United States. Within two weeks’ time, he welcomes President of China at the historic coastal town of Mamallapuram. It is this vision of working together with all can find creative ways for cooperation and solutions for any type of problem.

Finally, How the India-China relationship will evolve? Well if the relationship starts from 1947-1949, contentions will persist. However, a relationship built upon common history dating back thousands of years can go a long way. In this spirit of our common heritage and contemporary opportunities, the informal summit between representatives of 2.8 billion people can achieve more than what is imaginable. That’s Mamallapuram spirit!

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