Indian politician Ram Madhav was upbeat on his assessment of relations between Asia’s two biggest powers at security summit ongoing in Singapore.
Mr Madhav is National General Secretary, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and director of the India Foundation.
Speaking at the 17th Asia Security Summit in Singapore on the first day of the event that runs 1-3 June he ran attendees through the ups and downs of the relationship between India and China, and noted that the ASEAN group of nations is the central pillar or pivot of the Indo-Pacific region.
The following are highlights from his speech:
- India and China are two great and ancient civilisations. They have shared millennia-old relations at civilisational level; socio-economic relations too are millennia-old.
- Post-independence, India had established political and diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China. First decade of the relationship between the two countries saw great bonhomie culminating in the Panchsheel – the five principles of diplomatic intercourse.
- Post-1962 War, the relationship has certainly soured. Disputes over demarcation of the borders continue to simmer to this day. But the two countries have started to renegotiate the relationship in the late-80s when Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi made the first ever PM-level visit to China after the War.
- After coming together in late 80’s, we have lived together without major confrontations in last three decades. Despite occasional border incidents, we managed to broadly keep the relationship on an even keel.
- The real upswing happened with the rise of two great leaders in our two countries; Prime Minister Narendra Modi in India and President Xi Jinping in China. Both have risen to power based on strong popular nationalist support and both have radical visions for the future of their respective countries.
- Today, we are living in a multi-polar world. Gone were the days of bi-polar politics and dreams of uni-polarism and ‘end of history’.
- India and China are two important poles in the new 21st century world order. Both are big and both are rising. Both India and China realise that in a multi-polar setting that is leading to uncertainty and anxiety in parts of the world, we two countries have to play a vital role in ensuring stability. That calls for greater understanding between the two countries not only about the bilateral issues but also about the global power politics and trends.
- Wuhan, the ‘informal’ summit that took place around a month ago on 27-28 April between Prime Minister Modi and President Xi, is essentially about the two big and rising countries coming together to exchange notes and views on overarching issues of global importance and sharing their respective visions and priorities for national development in the light of current and future international situation.
- Wuhan has paved the way for greater understanding of the future of India–China relations based on mutual respect and trust for each other’s developmental aspirations and prudent management of bilateral concerns with mutual sensitivity.
- We have unsettled borders, but we decided to maintain peace along those borders. We have a strong but lop-sided trade relationship. India faces massive deficit in its trade with China. China has agreed to work with us in bridging the trade gap. We have decided to work with China on some developmental projects in Afghanistan. We are looking forward to working together on many other bilateral and international issues including terrorism.
- Prime Minister Modi has introduced a major out-of-the-box transformation in India’s foreign policy. He is a hands on leader as far as the country’s foreign policy is concerned.
- He has brought in the concept of ‘de-hyphenation’ in India’s foreign policy. What it means is that India’s relationship with any given country will be based on bilateral interests without prejudice to its relationship with any third country. It is a difficult exercise, but under determined leadership of Modi, we managed good relations with Israel and Palestine at the same time; and with Iran and Saudi Arabia too.
- Similarly, our relationship with China is significant for greater regional and global understanding and stability. However, it doesn’t in any manner alter our commitment to peace, stability and rule-based order in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond. Rather it should help address concerns regarding those issues.
- It doesn’t also affect our time-tested relations with other big powers like USA and Russia in any way. We are committed to pursuing our relations with all the major powers in the world uninfluenced by our regional priorities.
- The ASEAN group of nations is the central pillar or pivot of the Indo-Pacific region. Greater engagement for peace between India and China will help reassure regional forces like the ASEAN, besides helping strengthen efforts for stability in regions across Asia and Pacific like West Asia, Middle East and the South China Sea.
- India’s dependence on several of these regions and countries can’t be understated. Over 55% of India’s sea-borne trade passes through the South China Sea. India thus has huge stakes in managing peace, freedom of navigation and overflights in the region.
- India has greater stakes in the stability of the region immediate to its West too. We wish to contribute to the peace process in the Korean Peninsula hoping to extract peace dividends in our immediate neighbourhood. With that in mind we have not only supported the initiatives to bring both Koreas together and North Korea and US to the negotiations table; but also engaged with North Korea directly in order to highlight our concerns regarding the implications of proliferation. Gen V K Singh, our Minister of State for External Affairs was in Pyongyang on 15-16 May for bilateral consultations and driving home our concerns to the DPRK leadership.
- I would like to summarise the India-China relationship by way of a saying: ‘Coming together is the beginning; Living together is progress; Working together is success’.
- After coming together three decades ago and living through the ups and downs of the three decades together, today, we have reached a stage of success, where we two countries have started working together on regional and global platforms and issues.
- We have a long way to go. But we must realise that that way is only through investing sincerely in peace and rule-based world order.