June 23, 2003

PM's Speech at Peking (Beijing) University

~I thank you for inviting me to speak today at this renowned centre of learning. This premier University of China has had an eventful history, including migrating over 3000 kilometres during the Second World War to maintain its uninterrupted academic tradition.

You also have a special connection with India. We are grateful to your University for having sent Professor Tan Yun Shan to Shantiniketan many decades ago. It was he who inspired our great poet Rabindranath Tagore to set up the famous ~Cheena Bhavan~ in Vishwa Bharati University, of which I have the honour to be the Chancellor.

Today we repay this debt in some measure by pledging our support for a Centre for Indian Studies in this University. I have just had the privilege of inaugurating that Centre and of making a symbolical initial donation to its library. My government is prepared to depute two faculty members from India to the Centre. We have pledged to contribute an amount of one million rupees annually for the first five years towards its running costs. We can fund an annual scholarship at an appropriate institute in India for a student of the Centre. We are also offering an annual prize of a three-week visit to India for the first-ranked student of the centre. I propose we call this the Tan Yun Shan Award in memory of that modern-day pioneer of India-China cultural understanding. We would be happy to extend any other form of support, which the Centre may require.

Initiatives like the Centre for Indian Studies are specially welcome as part of our current effort to enrich the interaction between the India and China of today. We are, of course, two of the world’s oldest civilizations with contacts over at least two millennia. The Silk Route connected us through commerce, but also by facilitating the free flow of our music, our scriptures and our literature. The message of the Buddha, transmitted from India, was received by millions in China. Our maritime trade links kept us in close contact and also created a confluence of our cultures with that of South-East Asia.

But there were periods in history when our civilizations went into an introspective phase and lost regular touch with each other. In a later era, both countries suffered from colonial invasions and deprivations, which accentuated this trend. The shadow of the Cold War and the consequent distortions of global international relations had its impact also on India and China. From relative isolation from each other, we went into a state of estrangement.

We have emerged decisively from this dead-end of mistrust, already a few decades ago. We have vigorously set about recovering our mutual understanding, building a broad base for our cooperation and redeeming the promise of our complementarities.

It is in this task of recovering mutual understanding that the Centre for Indian Studies can make a significant contribution. You have built up an impressive scholarship in Indological studies, focussing mainly on history, languages and literature. I would suggest that you also strengthen your scholarship on modern Indian political, economic and sociological studies. Distance encourages caricatures and stereotyped images, based on old experiences. Academic exchanges and contemporary studies help to bridge the gap of information and perceptions. You can make your centre fulfil Lao Zi’s ideal of knowledge and understanding:

~Without stirring abroad

One can know the whole world;

Without looking out of the window

One can see the way of heaven.~

We know where we have come from. Let us better understand each other as we are today, and comprehend where we can go together in the future. The better we understand each other, the more we can do together.

No objective analysis can deny the combined strength and complementarity of an India-China partnership:

* We are the two most populous countries of the world,

* We have the two fastest growing economies in the world – yours faster than ours. In any economic forum in the world these days, the focus is on India and China.

* Both of us have continent-sized markets, with the advantages of huge economies of scale.

* We also have the problems of continent-sized countries – unequal development, a wide spread of income disparities, and a potential digital divide. Exchange of developmental experiences can be valuable.

* We are both at the forefront of developing and applying the technologies, which drive the Knowledge Economy.

* We have a harmonious balance of strengths. India’s strengths in Information Technology, software engineering, management and financial services are well matched by the Chinese expertise in hardware, construction and industry.

* Both India and China were present at the broader dialogue of developing countries with the G-8 countries in Evian earlier this month. I was struck by the congruence in our positions. If we acted in concert, it would be very difficult for the world to ignore us.

* India and China have frequently reiterated their commitment to the development of a cooperative multi-polar world order. In the complex international situation of today, we have a role to play in helping to restore the authority of the international organisations, which have been undermined in recent months.

Our two countries have been taking steps towards increasing mutual trust and understanding, through more intensive interaction. In recent years, our cooperation has greatly expanded and diversified. Our bilateral trade has shot up from around 200 million dollars in the early nineties to around 5 billion dollars. Indian business and industry have overcome their initial cultural and commercial apprehensions of Chinese business and are strengthening their linkages. The conclusive proof of this is the size and variety of the business delegation, which is here in China to coincide with the visit. It is also noteworthy that Indian investment in China is nearly 65 million dollars.

The India-China dialogue already transcends bilateral relations to encompass international issues such as terrorism, security, environment and sustainable development. We have an increasing commonality of interests within the World Trade Organization and overlapping concerns on globalization. Our coordination and collaboration in various multilateral institutions is expanding into newer and newer areas. A small, but important, example of such effective joint action is our cooperative effort to make the infrastructure lending policies of the World Bank more rational.

But, as I have said before, for two countries of our human resources, economic strengths and technological skills, we have only scratched the surface. Your senior leader Mr. Deng Xiaoping once said that the 21st century can only be the Asian century if India and China combine to make it so. To do so effectively, we should be conscious of our complementary strengths, resist contradictory pulls, and deploy our resources in a mutually reinforcing manner. Our trust and understanding should be able to withstand forces, which seek to divide us.

I would like to dwell in this context on what is frequently described as ~rivalry~ between India and China. As two large developing countries at roughly the same stage of development, sharing the same neighbourhood, pursuing similar growth trajectories, with comparable economic priorities and similar political ambitions, it is inevitable that comparisons will be made between India and China. It is also an unavoidable characteristic of human nature that there is always a sense of competition between two close and equal neighbours.

But we need to clearly understand the difference between healthy competition and divisive rivalry. Even in the present-day world, you can find examples of countries, which have maintained close political coordination, strengthened their economic complementarities and harmonized their international objectives, even while maintaining a healthy and good-natured economic and commercial competition. The developing world in general, and our two countries in particular, can benefit greatly by absorbing the lessons from these experiences. We should focus on the simple truth that there is no objective reason for discord between us, and neither of us is a threat to the other. These simple, but profound, principles should form the bedrock of the future India-China partnership.

One cannot wish away the fact that before good neighbours can truly fraternize with each other, they must first mend their fences. After a hiatus of a few decades, India and China embarked on this important venture a few years ago. We have made good progress. I am convinced that, with steadfast adherence to the Five principles of peaceful coexistence, with mutual sensitivity to the concerns of each other, and with respect for equality, our two countries can further accelerate this process so that we can put this difference firmly behind us. I am encouraged after my discussions with Premier Wen Jiabao that both our countries see an opportunity to proceed along this path.

It is a tryst with destiny, which beckons to us. When we redeem it, we can truly fulfil the ideal of close cooperation, described so colourfully by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore :

~When daylight breaks, we are free from the enclosure and the exclusiveness of our individual life. It is then that we see the light, which is for all men and for all times. It is then that we come to know one another, and come to cooperate in the field of life.~ India and China can create this destiny.~

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