The Imperial Hotel in New Delhi is much favoured by the Chinese because of its close bond to the People’s Republic of China. After the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and India on April 1, 1950, the hotel was rented as a temporary chancery for Chinese diplomats for three years. The first batch of Chinese diplomats started their mission from scratch and made a great contribution to laying the foundation of China-India relations. As a Chinese saying goes, “A man seldom reaches the age of 70 years in ancient times.”
Looking back on history after the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and India for nearly 70 years, I can’t help but feel emotions. In my view, China-India relations can be divided into four phases since the establishment of diplomatic ties:
The first phase is the “honeymoon period.” In addition to jointly proposing the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, Premier Zhou Enlai and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru exchanged visits and attended the Bandung Conference, guiding its agenda.
In the second phase, after the border conflict in 1962, China-India relations fell into a “frozen period”. It was not until Labour Day in 1970 that Chairman Mao Zedong, after shaking hands with Brajesh Mishra, then Charge d’Affaires of the Indian Embassy in China at the Tian’anmen Rostrum, said: “We cannot keep on quarrelling like this. We should try and be friends again.” In 1988, then Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi started his “ice-breaking visit” to China, and both sides reached a consensus to delink the boundary question from the overall development of bilateral relations.
The third phase, from the 1990s to the 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, is the “recovery period” in which the two countries promoted reform through mutual learning and pushed for a complete settlement of the issues of Tibet and Sikkim left by history. The fourth phase, from the CPC’s 18th National Congress in 2012 until the present, is the “acceleration period.” President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi initiated “hometown diplomacy” and put huge efforts into bilateral relations. India was the first stop of Premier Li Keqiang’s outgoing visits since he took office. Bilateral relations experienced large fluctuations due to the Donglang standoff in 2017.
However, the two leaders decided to take a forward-looking approach to “turn the page and open a new chapter of the bilateral relations” during the BRICS Xiamen summit in September 2017. With great vision, President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Modi held their first historic informal meeting in Wuhan in April 2018. Subsequently, the two leaders met three times and three Chinese State Councilors visited India. China-India relations have upgraded and entered the fast track of development. This represents a successful practice of Xi Jinping’s Thought on Diplomacy.
The current momentum has not come by easily and should be cherished. Taking history as a mirror, we have the following observations: First, our two leaders have always firmly grasped the general direction of the development of China-India relations. Whenever we fought side by side during the national liberation movement or put relations back on track after border conflicts, whenever we learned from each other in the tide of reform, our two leaders, like helmsmen, always set things right at crucial moments and led the ship of China-India relations through the waves to forge ahead. Second, the forward momentum is unstoppable. From the perspective of the four phases after the establishment of diplomatic relations, China-India relations have experienced ups and downs. From the perspective of peak-valley fluctuation model, the fluctuation interval is getting shorter and shorter which shows the sensitivity, maturity and adaptability of China-India relations. The past 69 years have proved that friendly cooperation, which has dominated most of the time, is the general trend and the mainstream, far more prominent than differences and frictions.
Third, people-to-people exchanges are the “adhesive” for bilateral relations. In 1981, China and India resumed yatra for official Indian pilgrims to Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar, Tibet, China. The two countries have established over 10 pairs of sister cities or provinces and personnel exchanges have exceeded one million. The total number of Indian students studying in China is over 20,000. Chinese food, acupuncture, martial arts and movie stars are increasingly popular in India. Yoga, Darjeeling tea and Bollywood are fashionable among Chinese youth. Yunnan Minzu University of China became the first university out of India to award Master’s degree in yoga.
Fourth, pragmatic cooperation is the “ballast stone”. In 2006, China and India reopened the Nathu La border trade route which had been closed for 44 years. China has been India’s largest trading partner for consecutive years with bilateral trade reaching a record high of $95.5 billion in 2018. At present, more than 1,000 Chinese companies are doing business in India and Chinese mobile phone brands such as Xiaomi, VIVO and OPPO have represented half of the Indian market. The National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) of India has established three IT corridors in Dalian, Guizhou and Xuzhou. China and India have great potential for cooperation in the fields of medicine, information technology and interconnectivity. Fifth, multilateral cooperation is the “growth point”. China and India face the tasks of improving people’s livelihoods, both are at a critical stage of deepening reform and advancing the modernisation process which require a favourable external environment. As members of multilateral organisations such as RIC, the BRICS, SCO, the G20, etc., both China and India share common interests in promoting globalisation and opposing trade protectionism. By speaking in one voice, the two countries are injecting new impetus into the development of bilateral relations.
Sixth, managing differences is the “stabiliser”. China-India relations have been disturbed by differences and problems from time to time. The “negative list” not only includes issues such as boundary and Dalai Lama left by history, but also emerging ones such as the listing issue of the UN Security Council 1267 Committee. Some third-party factors such as Pakistan, the United States and South Asia have implications for China-India relations as well. China and India have successfully resolved the issues of Tibet and Sikkim through consultation and dialogue. In recent years, the two countries have been exploring “China-India Plus”, a new model of cooperation, and have successfully carried out a joint training program for Afghan diplomats. It should be the direction of efforts for China and India to enhance mutual trust, enlarge cooperation cakes and narrow down the divergence.
China and India will celebrate the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations in 2020. Looking forward, we should continue to take Xi Jinping’s Thought on Diplomacy as guidance and highlight the three key words of “transmission”, “stability” and “vision.” We need to transmit the consensus of the two leaders achieved during the Wuhan summit to the grass-root level and translate it into action. Regarding stability, we need to transcend crisis-managing diplomacy, explore a model to actively shape relations and break the cycle of ups and downs in bilateral relations. Regarding vision, we need to be guided by four-area cooperation, namely negotiating and signing “China-India Treaty of Good-Neighbourliness and Friendly Cooperation”, exploring free trade agreements, initiating consultations on early harvests of the boundary question, and achieving synergy on the Belt and Road Initiative.
I believe that as two ancient civilizations, China and India have the ability and wisdom to find the path for major emerging and neighbouring countries to get along with each other, join hands to realise the “Dragon-Elephant Tango,” create the Asian century, and achieve greater glory in the next 70 years.
The writer is China’s ambassador to India