“India and China should re-imagine their relations primarily through psychological engagement,” said Ravi Bhoothalingam, an eminent scholar and Honorary Fellow at the Institute of China Studies, New Delhi. This interesting perspective on India-China relations was put forth during the Changing Asia Series lecture organised by the India Habitat Centre and the Society for Policy Studies (SPS) on “Why India and China matter to each other”.
Quoting this year’s Nobel Prize winner in Economics, Richard Thaler, he said deep convictions are difficult to change. While for India, accepting China is a “challenge of the brain”, for China, it is a “challenge of the heart”.
Bhoothalingam said, to understand India-China relations, it is important to keep in mind that both are relatively new nation states. Though the combination of authoritarian state and rapid economic progress makes China formidable, the differences may not necessarily imply conflict. India and China are still ignorant of each other and the canvas of engagement remains narrow.
To support his argument, he discussed the economic relations between both the nations at length and threw light on how the seeming areas of conflict can be turned into opportunities. “India is only moderately connected in terms of global flow. It is the least connected in the BRICS grouping. This is primarily because the great breadth of the country makes it viable to take the middle path to bring in more dividends,” he said. Taking into account the reach of China, he opined that there is ample scope for collaboration for India to gain wider market access and for China to increase its economic engagement in the region and beyond. The perspective with which India-China relations are viewed will change once there is an acceptance that “India’s strengths are complementary to China’s needs”.
Another area that Bhoothalingam listed where India and China can mutually benefit from each other is in the area of infrastructure. India’s infrastructural gaps and China’s interest in investment could mean that China could be a strong accelerator in India achieving its goal of rapid growth and full employment rate. He also focused on the tourism industry and said what is needed is coordinated trust between the government and industry to increase the people-to-people linkages.
He stressed on the fact that while analysing India-China relations, it is often forgotten that China is still a developing country like India and the challenges both the nations face in the form of climate change and energy crisis are the same. He pointed to the fact that there have been several occasions where India and China have collaborated and negotiated with the West to preserve their common ideals. But what has hindered the relation is that there has been no exchange of ideas. In the areas of innovation and creativity, bothnations have lagged behind in forging a partnership despite great potential.
“China will emerge in the next 10 years as a global pool of innovation. India has not yet been able to leverage its resources. The winning formula is always a combination of competition and collaboration. India and China should come together due to the ecology that stimulates innovation as diversity leads to new ideas,” he said.
A curious cultural aspect that Bhoothalingam discussed in his speech was how the differences in root languages of both the countries plays an important role in shaping their world view. The character based Mandarin and text based Sanskrit stimulate different parts of the brain which is responsible for the diametrically opposite views that both the nations take on the same topic.
Dwelling more on psychological engagement, he said the people in China are blissfully unaware of the effects of the 1962 war and both the nations should re-examine lessons from history to respond with sensitivity. Drawing from Confucianism, he said harmony is not the same as uniformity, it needs diversity. He focussed on the engagement of China with countries like Korea, Vietnam and Japan and said economic cooperation is possible even if there are underlying issues with no immediate solutions. He also cited the example of the 4th century A.D. Sanskrit scholar Kumar Jeeva who spread Buddhism to China to further substantiate his point that engagement is necessary for stronger ties.
The event was organised by Society for Policy Studies (SPS) in collaboration with India Habitat Centre and C.Uday Bhaskar, Director, SPS moderated the session. In his concluding remarks Bhaskar noted that in the final analysis, India and China will "matter" to each other either in realizing the potential of the Asian century in a harmonious manner ; or expending their capabilities in a discordant manner that would be to the detriment of their citizens and the Asian region.