Days after India reached out to China and advised Indian officials to skip events organised by the Tibetan government-in-exile, Beijing on Thursday asked New Delhi to shed “mental inhibitions” and “mutual suspicion” to improve bilateral ties.
Using one of the most oft-repeated metaphors for India and China, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said it was time for the Chinese dragon and Indian elephant to dance together rather than fight each other. “The Chinese dragon and the Indian elephant must not fight each other but dance with each other. If China and India are united, one plus one will not equal two but 11,” Wang said at a press conference in Beijing.
As reported by The Indian Express on March 2, the government, while underlining that this is a “very sensitive time” for bilateral relations with China, sent out a note last month asking “senior leaders” and “government functionaries” of the Centre and states to stay away from events planned to mark 60 years in exile of the Dalai Lama. Subsequently, the Tibetan government-in-exile cancelled its two main events in New Delhi.
Wang’s conciliatory statements — seen as acknowledgement of India’s outreach — are key to improving bilateral ties, which have been strained since the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh in April last year, following which Wang cancelled his visit to India for the Russia-India-China trilateral meeting the same month.
Even during the 10-week-long border standoff at Doklam which began in mid-June last year, Wang was the hardline voice from the Chinese establishment, while State Councillor Yang Jiechi was the more moderate voice.
Striking a placatory tone on Thursday, the Chinese Foreign Minister said the relationship between the two countries continues to grow and leaders of both the countries have developed a strategic vision for the future of their relationship. He also asked both countries to drop mutual suspicion.
“As the largest developing countries, each with a population of more than one billion, China and India must do everything to empathise and support each other and to avoid mutual suspicion and attrition,” Wang said.
His comments follow his meeting, on February 23, with Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale, who visited China to mend fences and reset the India-China relationship after a rocky 2017.
Wang also spoke about the need for the two countries to trust each other. “Mutual trust is the most precious commodity in China-India relations. With political trust, not even the Himalayas can stop us from friendly exchanges. Without it, not even levelled land can bring us together,” he said.
“A shared understanding far outstrips our differences. Our common interests far outweigh our frictions. China is willing and ready to inherit and take forward our traditional friendship and be a friend and partner of Indian people,” he said.
“I hope the two sides will be free from mental inhibitions and meet each other halfway. Let us replace suspicion with trust, manage differences with dialogue and build a future with cooperation,” he said.
His statements are important since India and China have serious differences on issues like the China Pakistan Economic Corridor being part of the One Belt One Road initiative, India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group, and the listing of Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Maulana Masood Azhar as a global terrorist at the UN, which have cast a shadow on the ties between the two countries.
China, however, took a swipe at India over its presence in the recently revived Quadrilateral — between Australia, the United States, Japan, and India — as part of the US Indo-Pacific strategy to counter China’s assertive and proactive activities in the region. The four countries met in Manila, on the sidelines of the ASEAN and East Asia summits in November last year, and there has been a lot of interaction between them, at the bilateral or trilateral level.
“I hope they mean what they say and their actions match their words… There’s never a shortage of headline-grabbing ideas, but they are like seafoam in the Pacific or Indian Ocean,” he said.
In New Delhi, officials read Wang’s comments with “guarded optimism”, but wanted to see Beijing walk the talk on its positive statements. They pointed to China lifting objections at the Financial Action Task Force for grey-listing Pakistan as an early indicator of a possible change in its approach.