Reinforcing the Foundation of China-India Friendship

How to strengthen mutual trust between China and India? For Chinese, they need to adjust their mindsets and carefully study Indian history and culture; for Indians, they need to free themselves from the shackles of biased English information about China.
by Yu Longyu
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September 28, 2019: Eight representatives from China and India pose for a group photo with other participants at the China-India Youth Talks 2019 in Beijing. They exchanged their views on how China and India should learn from each other during the event. courtesy of China Radio International

On April 1, 1950, under the instruction of the founding leaders of the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of India, the two great nations officially established diplomatic relations, causing a sensation around the world. This year, the two countries celebrate the 70th anniversary of the establishment of their diplomatic ties, which has also drawn worldwide attention.

China and India were the world’s earliest civilization states (or civilized communities), an advanced state of human society. The superiority of their state systems was based on their advanced concepts of civilization. China’s advanced concepts about civilization include “harmony between man and nature,” “benevolence,” “people being the foundation of the state,” “the thought of forgiveness” and “the doctrine of the mean,” which respectively correspond to India’s “tat tvam asi” (absolute identity between the individual and the Absolute), “ahimsa” (nonviolence), “panchayati raj” (a system of rural local self-government), “the rule of tolerance” and “madhyamika” (intermediate). They represent the advanced concepts that China and India have held since ancient times in philosophy, ethics, politics, social governance and methodology. All of those concepts are rooted in a traditional philosophical idea shared by the Chinese and Indian peoples: “The world is a harmonious whole.”

On September 17, 2014, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat. Modi told Xi that China and India are “two bodies with one spirit.” The following day, when delivering a speech titled “In Joint Pursuit of a Dream of National Renewal” at the Indian Council of World Affairs in New Delhi, Xi quoted Modi’s words and stressed that these words reveal the kind and peace-loving nature shared by our two great civilizations and the intrinsic connection between them. In his speech, Xi said, “The Chinese concepts of ‘universal peace’ and ‘universal love’ and the Indian concepts of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakum’ (the world being one family) and ‘ahimsa’ (nonviolence) are very much alike. Both China and India consider harmony as the way toward a better future for the world and hope that all countries will live in harmony and peace.”

The two nations’ joint pursuit for a “harmonious world” and their advanced  concepts about civilization laid a philosophical foundation for China-India friendship. Based on this philosophical foundation, Chinese and Indian scholars have coined new terms such as “Dragon-Elephant Tango” and “Chindia” to describe new visions for China-India friendship.

Of them, the most innovative is Chindia, created by renowned Indian economist Jairam Ramesh. The term gained popularity soon after its creation. Famous Chinese scholar Tan Zhong believes that the most suitable interpretation of “Chindia” is “China and India uniting as one.” I couldn’t agree more with him. In “An Explanation of Chindia,” a postscript I wrote for the Chinese edition of Jairam Ramesh’s Making Sense of Chindia: Reflections on China and India, I said, “Chindia, in which China and India connected as one, means that the two nations unite and cooperate with each other to promote comprehensive exchanges for mutual benefits and common development in the principles of fraternity, honesty, wisdom and benevolence, so as to bring benefits to both peoples and create a bright future for both countries. The dragon and the elephant should complement each other; if the two dance together instead of competing with each other, nothing is impossible. In mythology, the dragon brings timely rainfalls to the earth, and the elephant represents wisdom. Together, they could benefit the whole world. Chindia is the biggest blessing for today’s world. For this reason, it is an aspiration not only of the Chinese and Indian peoples, but also of people around the world.”

After studying Chinese and Indian cultures and their relations for more than half a century, I’m in eager anticipation of Chindia. In the postscript, I wrote, “Chindia is a social ideal grounded on the actual situation of international politics and China-India relations and goes beyond any religious belief. I believe the ideal will turn into reality through tireless efforts. What I mentioned above is the fundamental contents, realizing approach and ultimate goals of Chindia. The domestic and international situations faced by China and India and the consensuses reached between common people, elites and politicians of the two countries are boosters for bilateral unity, collaboration and cooperation across the board, which is the elementary goal of Chindia. The secondary goal is to realize comprehensive exchanges, mutual benefits and common development, while the third goal is to deepen friendship, promote honesty and share wisdom. The three goals are not only important contents of Chindia, but also driving forces to push it to a higher level, namely a bright future featuring benevolence and shared benefits. This is the ultimate goal of Chindia. It will bring care, happiness, freedom and glory not only to the Chinese and India peoples but also to people around the world.”

However, there is a long way to go before the ideal of Chindia can become a reality. I wrote the postscript in 2006. How are China-India relations today? In 2017, when addressing the BRICS Think Tank Seminar in Guangzhou Higher Education Mega Center, I said, “In recent years, China-India relations have maintained a positive general trend. Leaders of the two countries made mutual visits, and bilateral economic and trade ties saw substantive progress. However, the friendship between China and India still lags far behind what the two peoples anticipate. We should spare no efforts to enhance the frequency and quality of contacts between the two countries.”

This unsatisfying situation is mainly caused by two factors: The first is the Cold War mentality and geopolitical theories held by some Western countries. Just like Ravana sabotaging the marriage between Rama and Sita, they tried their utmost to alienate China and India. The second is the trust deficit between China and India. The external disturbances by Western countries wouldn’t work if the two Asian neighbors had enough mutual trust. Therefore, we must continue reiterating the importance and necessity of strengthening mutual trust between China and India, which is key to solving all problems hindering the improvement of their relationship. 

How to strengthen mutual trust between China and India? For Chinese, they need to adjust their mindsets and carefully study Indian history and culture while reawakening memories of the journey of Monk Xuanzang to retrieve Buddhist sutras from India and the kind support and assistance of Indian people represented by Rabindranath Tagore and Dr. Kotnis coming to China in the time of peril; for Indians, they need to free themselves from the shackles of biased English information about China, and trust their own eyes and ears.

Different groups of people in both countries vary in knowledge about each other. In general, their insights into each other’s countries are proportional to their understandings of history and modern knowledge. Scholars dedicated to studying each other’s countries show the highest level of mutual trust. After visiting India, Chinese tourists usually form two contrary perceptions: Some think India is much better than they had thought, and others simply conclude that India is dirty, chaotic and backward, just like China in the eyes of Westerners during the 1980s. Those holding the second perception remain the mainstream, but their percentage has been constantly dropping in recent years.

This indicates that the key factor influencing mutual trust between the Chinese and Indian peoples is not people’s age or social status, but their access to accurate information. A trust deficit stems from an information deficit and a knowledge deficit. China and India still lack necessary mutual understanding. Young Indians who study or work in China can gain a picture of a true China based on what they have seen and heard in the country, so they trust China and its people. On December 19, 2019, I participated in the reception of an Indian delegation of youth leaders. Ten Indian young elites showed great curiosity and goodwill for China during the visit. This was the same as I felt during my visit to India in December 2018. Thanks to more effective means of access to information in modern times, today’s Indians, especially youngsters, have gained a more comprehensive, accurate and profound understanding of China and its culture than older generations. They show sincere enthusiasm and friendliness towards China and Chinese culture. I believe that the young generations of China and India will further reinforce the foundation of friendship between the two nations, thus benefiting the two peoples and the whole world.

It is touching that many Indian students and workers stayed in China to help fight the COVID-19 outbreak and cheer for China by posting articles on social media. Just as Dr. Kotnis did decades ago, an Indian doctor named Garry risked his life fighting the disease on the front lines.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the establishment of China-India diplomatic relations. I believe that based on their mutual trust and guided by the “Wuhan Consensus” and the “Chennai Connect,” people of the two countries will make China-India friendship stronger, healthier, and more lasting. 

The author is a professor with the Center for Indian Studies of Shenzhen University, an expert in Indian literature and China-India cultural relations, and president of the Indian Literature Research Society under the China Foreign Literature Association.