Backpacker: “I want to go visit India.”
His friend: “Are you serious?”
This type of conversation, appearing quite often on the Chinese messaging app WeChat, perhaps reflects the familiarity gap between China and India. Many Chinese tourists seem worried about food and hotel service before they visit India. However, India is now teeming with vitality under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi. Reforms are being deepened in India and the economy is growing fast with growth rate reaching 7.4 percent in the third quarter of 2015 and vying for a leading position along with other major economies in the world. Ambitious development initiatives, such as “Make in India”, “Digital India” and “Smart City” have been launched which are attracting international companies to invest in India. And India is all set to leave the US behind as the country with the second largest internet population. At the same time, I have seen Indian friends who became worried after thier first visit to China. An Indian friend once asked me whether the internet and Wi-Fi could be accessed easily in China. He was surprised to learn from me that Chinese internet population is nearly 668 million and tops the world. Needless to say, the gap caused by misunderstanding, lack of communication and prejudice between the peoples of China and India calls for better communication and exchange. Let me cite some figures to highlight the problem. The number of outbound Chinese travelers has reached 100 million per annum, of which more than 10 million travelers go to Japan and South Korea, but only about 1.7 lakh to India. At the same time, around 7 lakh Indian travelers visit China each year. Furthermore, there are more than 1,000 flights between China and South Korea, but less than 40 flights between China and India per week, which is highly disproportionate to the combined population of 2.6 billion of our two countries. Hence, bridging this familiarity gap is an important and urgent task before us.
The silver lining, however, is that both Chinese and Indian leaders attach great importance to bilateral exchanges. President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Modi have met five times in the last twelve months. We still remember how President Xi tried his hand at a legendary charkha and swung on a jhoola with Prime Minister Modi in Gujarat, how the two leaders walked together in the Wild Goose Pagoda in Xi’an, and how Premier Li Keqiang and Prime Minister Modi took the “super selfie” after they attended a joint Taichi and Yoga performance in Beijing. The chemistry between our leaders has undoubtedly stimulated the vitality of bilateral political exchanges. In 2015, a record number of about 100 high-level Chinese delegations at vice-ministerial level and above visited India. In November alone, Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao and Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission Fan Changlong visited India, and the Home Minister of India Rajnath Singh visited China. The mutual engagement between our two countries has seen a remarkable dynamism under the guidance of our leaders, and enthusiasm among our two peoples to know more about each other is growing at an unprecedented rate.
Entrepreneurs from both countries take bilateral relations as an opportunity to promote trade and industrial cooperation. As important outcomes of President Xi Jinping’s visit to India and Prime Minister Modi’s visit to China, when 21 business agreements worth US$20 billion were signed, establishment of Chinese industrial parks and railway cooperation between our countries have made positive progress. World renowned Chinese companies, such as Wanda, Sany, Alibaba, Lenovo, Xiaomi, Huawei and ZTE, have either made or are considering investment in India. Wanda Group plans to invest US$10 billion in building cultural industrial park in India. Sany plans to invest US$3 billion in the manufacturing sector. Huawei, Lenovo, Xiaomi and other Chinese high-tech companies have already set up R&D centers or production lines in India. China Railway has won the bid for the Delhi-Mumbai high-speed rail feasibility study project out of 12 companies from seven countries and is actively working on it. The Industrial & Commercial Bank of China has now become a strategic banking partner of the Tata group. One can see that such close economic and industrial cooperation has brought a new, fresh and vibrant outlook to the bilateral relationship.
People-to-people exchanges are booming. In August, India launched e-visa to Chinese tourists, leading to exponential growth in Chinese tourists which exceeded 200,000 up to October. The enthusiasm for learning Chinese language is also witnessing an upsurge in India, with more and more youngsters learning Chinese, more and more companies recruiting Chinese-speaking employees, and more and more universities expanding or starting Chinese language courses. Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, in fact plans to establish more branches for teaching Chinese all over India, and Kendriya Vidyalayas have introduced Chinese language as an optional course in their curriculum. To study in or pay a visit to China has also become a popular pursuit for Indian youth. From 2015, the Chinese Government Scholarships for Indian students have been increased from 20-30 per year to 100 per year, and the China-India youth exchange program has been expanded to 200 people from the earlier 100. As part of implementing the important consensus reached between President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Modi, China has opened a new pilgrimage route through Nathu La Pass to Kailash Mansarovar for Indian pilgrims. I personally accompanied the first batch of pilgrims on this route and found it very comfortable, convenient and safe. Now, Indian pilgrims can travel in air-conditioned buses, enjoying beautiful scenery, with an average speed of 100 kilometers per hour towards the fascinating Kailash Mansarovar. As we all know, “Amity between people holds the key to sound relations between states.” The friendly people-to-people exchanges between China and India have laid a solid foundation for bilateral cooperation.
Let me cite some touching incidents which epitomize friendly exchanges between the peoples of our countries; one can also read about these on the website and the WeChat account of the Chinese Embassy. The first one which comes to my mind is of a girl from Mumbai. She was so moved after reading reports about a Chinese journalist donating pediatric leukemia stem cells to a boy in New Delhi that she wrote a letter to me saying that she would like to become an envoy of China-India friendship. I invited her and her parents to the Chinese National Day reception, encouraged her to study hard and strengthen China-India friendship. This story was widely reported in both Chinese and Indian media. Another is a rare lost-and-found incident. A Chinese trader had lost his passport and money at a trade fair in Delhi. While we were making efforts to renew his passport at the embassy, to our pleasant surprise an Indian lady found the belongings and sent them to the embassy. We organized a meeting between the two persons, and they had a friendly hug and promised to meet again in Beijing. Such true stories actually stand proof to the genuine and sincere friendship between Chinese and Indian peoples.
As the Chinese Ambassador to India, I have received about 300 Chinese government, academics, media, business, culture delegations. I have visited around 15 states and regions of India, given over 60 interviews to Indian media, and made friends from different spheres of life. My schedule is almost full every day. I am busy but happy. 2016 is the “Visit China Year” in India and China will be the Guest of Honour Country at the New Delhi World Book Fair 2016. I believe that with the joint effort of the peoples of both China and India, there will be more frequent exchanges between two countries, and mutual trust would be deepened further. The duet of the Indian elephant and the Chinese dragon is going to be more harmonious and more exciting.
The launch of China-India Dialogue comes at an appropriate time. We hope our people will deepen mutual understanding and make dialogue and cooperation the “new normal”.
Congratulations once again on the publication of China-India Dialogue.
The author is China’s Ambassador to India since September 2014. In the last 30 years, he worked in the Chinese embassy in the Soviet Union, Russia and Kazakhstan; and, in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) he handled China’s relations with the Soviet Union, East Europe and Central Asia. He was Counselor to the UN 1998-2001, Director-General of MFA 2009-11, and Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs 2011-13.
Published in the INAUGURAL ISSUE of CHINA-INDIA DIALOGUE