Site Search :
·China Inaugurates Confucius Institute U.S. Center in Washington
Rising Logistics Demand amid Warming Economy
·Chinese President Meets Olympic Chief Thomas Bach
·Coffee in Paradise
·Shen Yaoyi’s Long March Classic Fetches US $6.4 Million
·Exploring the Deep Sea
·Daya Bay Pearl of the South China Sea
·Riverside Romance in Central Anhui
·Into the Wild – Hiking through Qizang Valley
·Chinese Economy: On the Path of Scientific Development
·China's Economy over the Last Ten Years
·Private Investment Encouraged to
Promote Mixed Ownership Economy
·The “Nationwide Sport System” Needs Urgent Reform
·The Change One Man Can Make
·On the Pulse of the National Economy
Around Chinamore
·Guizhou Mapping Out Its Road Network – An Interview with Cheng Mengren, Transport Chief of the Guizhou Provincial Government
·Innovative Nanchang
·Scientists Uncover Causes of Mass Extinction in the Ashes
Special Report  

Know Thy Neighbor

By staff reporter SUN LEI

Traditions are well preserved in India, as are historic sites like the 1,500-year-old ornate cave temples on the Elephanta Island, Mumbai.

Special Report

WITH other reporters from China International Publishing Group I headed for India three weeks after the New Delhi BRICS summit and two days after the test firing of the country’s Agni-V intercontinental ballistic missile.

These two events fully represent the opportunities and challenges facing China and India. The BRICS summit concluded with a joint declaration in which the five attending countries agreed to speak with one voice on a number of regional and global issues, such as on situations in the Middle East and Syria. Meanwhile, the Agni-V test firing received considerable press coverage in India, and many reports singled out the Chinese cities of Beijing and Shanghai as being within reach of the long-range missile. Naturally, these reports were deemed provocative by the Chinese media and triggered public alarm in those cities.

Such odi et amo is not unusual in the relationship between these two neighboring giants, contact between whom stretches back to the second century B.C.

Sino-Indian relations in recent times have had their share of highlights, like the co-declaration of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence (known in India as the Panchsheel) in 1954. There have also been difficulties, such as the border disputes in the 1960s. Nowadays, however, relations are strong. Politicians on both sides embrace the fact that these two emerging powers, whose combined population accounts for one third of humanity, need to work together.

Today, China is India’s largest trade partner. Bilateral trade hit US $61.7 billion in 2010, 20 times the volume one decade ago. Last year, trade grew further, reaching a record US $73.9 billion. Though China’s surplus in bilateral trade remained large at US $27 billion, India’s exports have grown at a strong 12.26 percent year on year. India’s share in China’s overall foreign trade is small but growing rapidly, rising to 3.8 percent last year from 2.06 percent in 2010.

Politically, the frequency of exchanges between the top leadership of the two countries has picked up in the new millennium. During Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s visit to China in 2003, the two parties signed the Declaration on the Principles for Relations and Comprehensive Cooperation, pledging to promote a long-term constructive and cooperative partnership and, on this basis, take the bilateral relationship to new heights.

Two years later in 2005, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited India and the two sides established a strategic cooperative partnership for peace and prosperity. In 2006 President Hu Jintao headed to New Delhi, and the two countries formulated the Ten-Pronged Strategy to deepen their partnership. In 2008 Prime Minister Manmohan Singh paid an official visit to China, and the two countries promulgated a document, A Shared Vision for the 21st Century. In 2010 President Patil and Premier Wen Jiabao were in each other’s countries to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations as well attend the Festival of China in India and the Festival of India in China. The year 2011 was declared the China-India Exchange Year, during which the governments of the two countries aimed to push friendly cooperation in education and culture, as well as encourage ever-increasing people-to-people exchanges.

Headway has also been made on the border issue. In his 2010 visit to India, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao proposed setting up a working mechanism for consultation and coordination over China-India border affairs. An agreement was signed in New Delhi in January this year to formally launch this mechanism, and the first meeting under it was held two months later in Beijing. This concluded with a joint pledge to safeguard peace and stability along China-India borders. The two share a 2,000-km-long border that has never been formally delineated.

As PM Manmohan Singh wrote in his message for the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, “Today India-China relations have diversified into almost all areas of human endeavor. They have achieved a high level of maturity that serves the interests of both our peoples and the cause of peace, stability and progress in the region and the world.”

People to People

Nobody disputes these encouraging figures, warm comments and solid steps toward improvement, but it cannot be overlooked that a glaring deficit of knowledge and understanding remains at the people-to-people level. This contributes to a degree of public mistrust between the two countries. These neighbors need to get to know each other better at the personal level.

In a 2011 speech, Chinese Ambassador to India Zhang Yan disclosed that in the previous year the flow of personnel between China, Japan and South Korea totaled 16.56 million, while that between China and India was below 600,000, a stark shortfall considering that the triad’s population is barely 60 percent of the pair’s total. The figure is rising swiftly, but is still a long way off reaching an amount proportionate to the two neighbors’ population size and geographical proximity. Last year, 118,000 Chinese visited India, up 19.1 percent over 2010, while 600,000 Indian came to China, up 10.4 percent year on year.

For people who cannot make personal visits abroad, the media becomes a vital, sometimes the sole means through which they learn about foreign countries. Indian media outlets generally dedicate a lot of coverage to China. But there are very few Indian correspondents actually on the ground in China. China has 10 correspondents in New Delhi, but India has only four in Beijing. So where does the coverage of China come from?

Flipping through one of the major English-language newspapers in my hotel room in New Delhi, I noticed that the large majority of its China articles were supplied by Western outlets like Associated Press. An editor at the country’s leading news agency told us that it had one correspondent in Beijing, who could speak, but not read, Chinese.

For reporters working in foreign countries, proficiency in local language is absolutely vital. Knowing a language also means knowing a culture. Without it, how does one grasp the cultural and historical nuances of a changing society?

During our stay in India many people cited reports by one Chinese English-language newspaper when referring to China’s “aggressiveness.” With its breaking reporting on major events and hard-line stance, the newspaper may be the most quoted Chinese media outlet abroad besides Xinhua. However it cannot be overlooked that that paper is only a drop in the ocean of the 12,000 newspapers and magazines published in China, and stands only for its own opinions.

Similarly, when answering our questions on perceived Indian media hostility toward China, particularly on the military issue, Shri Sailas Thangal, external publicity director of the Ministry of External Affair, reminded us of the diversity of opinion and large volume of his country’s publications. He noted that some spice up their stories to stay above the cutthroat competition, while others take a more balanced stance, much in the same way Chinese publications do. Figures from the World Association of Newspapers show there were 2,700 paid-for daily newspaper titles in India in 2010. “The launching of the Agni-V missile was beautiful, but the [media] commentary was ugly. None of our scientists nor the head of the project have ever said we were aiming at China,” Mr. Thangal said.

There is plenty the Chinese media could do to better acquaint the country’s citizens with their next-door neighbor. Unfortunately, for many Chinese the first image that springs to mind at the mention of India is too often an overloaded bus or train with people sitting on top of carriages or clinging to door handles with their bodies perilously suspended in the air. We fix our eyes on the U.S., Europe and other conventional powers and don’t pay enough attention – except on border and military issues – to India and the other large emerging economies that constitute a crucial anchoring force for the teetering world economy. We look into the distance, ignoring our backyard.

In comparison with the 10,000 or more Indian students in China, the number of Chinese students in India is small – 1,600, according to the Chinese Students Union in New Delhi. Explaining this small presence, the union’s leaders cited several reasons, the first being little exposure to India at home. Others include on-the-ground disincentives, such as poor infrastructure, hot weather and visa difficulties.

Shri Manish Tewari, spokesperson for the Indian National Congress Party, says there should be exchanges on more regular basis between India and China. “One of the areas that the two can actively work together on is promoting understanding between young people, technicians, engineers, doctors and so on. We shouldn’t just talk at the level of political leadership.”

Changes to this effect are underway. Last year, as part of programs for the China-India Exchange Year, a delegation of 500 young Indians visited China. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao gave a welcome speech, saying that ambitious young people from the two countries should have a deep understanding of the strategic significance of China-India relations and possess a firm belief in peace, cooperation and mutual benefit. “I believe that when the youths of China and India join hands and work together, the sky of Asia will be clearer and the future will be brighter,” he concluded. Earlier this year a Chinese youth group of the same size paid a reciprocal visit to India.

Similarities, Disparities and


As a first time visitor to India, I cautioned myself not to be like the blind men who try to learn what an elephant looks like by randomly running their hands over it and sharing their individual findings. This ancient parable, meaning do not look at the parts to make assumptions about the whole, is believed to have originated in India and has been for decades in primary school textbooks in China. It turns out that not making assumptions and having an open mind were critical for my own “journey of discovery” in India.

During the trip, I jotted down what I saw and thought everyday. One scribble from my notebook in New Delhi was: “Not yet seen a female driver.” But in Mumbai, I saw several, including a taxi driver. Also there were business ladies sitting in the back seat of limousines driven by men. One day I read in a newspaper a report on a survey that showed over 50 percent of Indian teenagers, both boys and girls alike, believe wife beating is justified, while on the opposite page ran a story about a leading scientist on Agni-V, a woman, who said science knows no gender. In our meetings in India we also met several successful women who occupied senior positions in prestigious institutions.

Worrying about dress codes and religious sensitivities (India is said to have all major existing religions on earth) in a country widely regarded as conservative, I wore dresses below the knee and covered my shoulders and arms. Later I found that although the Sari is still the choice for many Indian women, it’s not unusual to find Lady Gaga-esque singers on TV. The only explanation for such supposed paradoxes is that India is a country of incredible diversity and complexity, where tradition and modernity coexist.

No visitor would write home about India’s poor infrastructure, sardine-can crowds or the appalling conditions in which its homeless multitudes live. It took us six hours to drive from New Delhi to Taj Mahal, 220 kilometers away. This trip would take two hours in China. But as a citizen of a developing country myself, I know the tangible meaning of catchwords like “developing” and “emerging” behind impressive annual GDP growth figures.

That these problems exist is not to say that the authorities in India are not doing anything about them. Two overpasses were under construction just near our hotel in Mumbai to deal with its traffic problem, and we heard the details of other road-building projects, TV signal coverage extension schemes, free lunch and tuition exemption programs for schoolchildren and affordable housing projects. All these have equivalents in China; the countries are on a shared development path.

With many similarities and faced with common challenges in development, China and India share views on many international issues and are committed to the vision of building a multi-polarized world. Our similarities consolidate the common ground between us, while disparities spell the potential for complementarity. The world has enough room for the development of both China and India, as Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said during his visit to India. Cooperation should be natural.

VOL.59 NO.12 December 2010 Advertise on Site Contact Us