The Path to Promote a Solid Development of China-India Relations: People-to-People Exchanges and Mutual Learning among Civilizations

Cai Chunyang
August 25, 2019


Image Courtesy: ANI

China-India relations in the past 70 years has experienced good and bad times. The leaders of the two countries reached a broad consensus and pushed for a closer partnership between China and India during Shanghai Cooperation 2018, Wuhan Summit 2018, and Doklam Standoff 2018. It is crucial for the leaders of the two countries to come to a civic consensus and find a common path for practical actions.

How can China-India relations be defined: as enemies, rivals, or partners? The answer is neither yes nor no. According to the “pan-familism” of  Eastern society and “inclusive universalism” of Cultural tradition, the relationship between India and China is a “brother-like” relationship which transcends the modern concept of state and sovereignty. In fact, in the 1950s, China and India have come together and enjoyed the spirit of “Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai” (China and India are like brothers). Recently, Prime Minister Modi, in his speech, said, “China and India are two bodies with one spirit.” President Xi Jinping also spoke on the importance of co-existence in harmony and stressed that “when China and India speak with one voice, the whole world will listen.” Both countries need to take various initiatives to build a solid relationship between them.

First, both countries have taken the initiative towards exchanges and mutual learnings between Chinese and Indian civilizations. At the Asian Civilizations Dialogue Conference held in Beijing in May 2019, President Xi Jinping has mentioned the ancient Indian scripture Rig Veda and further noted that civilizations communicate through diversity, learn from each other and progress through mutual learning. Both China and India belong to the Oriental civilization, and people of both the countries have enjoyed friendly exchanges for thousands of years Our exchanges and mutual learning in the past had a profound impact on each other’s civilizations. According to Mr. Tan Chung, China and India are twin civilizations in the Himalaya Sphere and share the same vision and pursuit of “a harmonious world”. Tan further advocated that “two ancient civilizations, China and India should be more concerned with the development of geo-civilization rather than geopolitics.” Therefore, China and India should consider a matter beyond geopolitics and think more from the perspective of civilizations, and this may bring solutions to many problems.

Secondly, China and India should focus on People-to-People Exchanges. This can be perceived in two ways: one is exchanges between citizens, and the other is cultural exchanges. The exchanges between citizens regard people as the core and is a human-centered ideology which involves cultural exchanges and personnel exchanges. Its connotation and extension are richer than of cultural exchanges. State-to-state relations lie in amity between the people, and hence develops a mutual understanding. The stability and development of China-India relations are based on mutual trust. Since People are the best carriers of exchanges and mutual learning among civilizations, deepening people-to-people exchanges, and cultural exchanges is a meaningful way to eliminate estrangement and misunderstanding and to promote mutual understanding between the people of both countries.

China and India have established a high-level people-to-people exchange mechanism. The next step is to ensure the success of people-to-people exchanges. Eight areas are identified under the  people-to-people exchange mechanism namely, cultural exchanges and cultural relics protection; educational cooperation and language teaching; tourism cooperation and personnel exchanges; youth exchanges and sports exchanges; media exchanges and public opinion environment; academic exchanges and cooperation production; To build an all-directions and multi-layer people-to-people cooperation, people should strengthen exchanges, enhance mutual understanding, continue to strengthen think tanks, media, and youth exchanges, and expand friendly exchanges between different places.

So what role does people-to-people exchange play? To elaborate the point, I will discuss my personal experience. I have benefitted from the China-India people-to-people exchange program. Four years ago, I participated in the compilation of a series of books on China-India people-to-people exchanges. I started reading books and relevant materials in order to learn more about India, an ancient and great country. This was my second opportunity to attend an international conference in India, and since I love the country and its people, I decided to come to India and live my own experiences. For me, “if India is a thick book, I am slowly opening the book.” I feel my life is richer than before because of my association with India. I promote people around me to go to India and understand the real India through their own experiences and not through the media, or through the second-hand experiences of other people. This is where people-to-people exchanges play an essential role. It draws our hearts closer, makes us understand each other, gives us more trust. People-to-people exchanges are personal warm, and enthusiastic. This is its unique charm.

Thirdly, China and India should take the initiative in working together towards building The Belt and Road cooperation. Some people consider the issue as sensitive. However, the fact is that many Indian scholars are studying and paying attention to the Belt and Road initiative, which is now called Cobuilding the Belt & Road. China first proposed the co-construction of the Belt and Road, but it belongs to the whole world. In China, a familiar proverb is, “China will do well only when the world does well.” In the past, China and India had trade and cultural exchanges along the ancient silk road. Today, India and China can again take the initiative to build the Belt and Road cooperation, which will be a continuation of the ancient silk road. As a Chinese saying goes, “everything is hard in the beginning.” Once the misunderstandings clear up and the initiative starts, it will create a bright and beautiful future. The Belt and Road will involve extensive consultation, joint contribution, and win-win cooperation. Progress can be made through equal consultation in the process, which is bound to benefit both sides.

Fourthly, cooperation is needed for Non-traditional security. China and India have territorial disputes. At present, the best way is to put aside disputes and seek a more reasonable solution. One way forward is through negotiations and consultations, and the disputes may be resolved in the near future. Meanwhile, India and China have room for cooperation in terms of non-traditional security. China and India are the world’s most influential developing countries with large populations. Both countries have similar problems and difficulties in the development process. Both countries have good experiences to share and learn from each other. Although there has been some cooperation and exchanges between China and India in the field of non-traditional security, it is far from enough. The need is to institutionalize and systematize. In the future, China and India can enhance cooperation in many areas including combating terrorism, coping with epidemic diseases, natural disasters, climate change, environmental governance, water resources, energy security, and maritime security.

Fifthly, responsibility, and commitment play an essential role in improving the relationship between countries. Mr. Tan Yunshan is the promoter and practitioner of China-India cooperation and had devoted his life to China-India friendship.  The need is to inherit and carry forward the spirit of India-China friendship. Additionally, Chinese and Indian culture should be spread and be committed to building China-India friendship.  In the present scenario, the efforts should be put towards understanding each other’s culture and contribute towards the promotion of bilateral relations.

*** The author is a research scholar at the Yunnan University ***