Event Report-International Conference:Enhancing India-China People-to-People Relations

The international conference on Enhancing India- China People to People Relations– a one day event dated 12 February 2018 was organised by the Chennai Centre for China Studies (C3S) and the Press Institute of India (PII) in partnership with Centre for Public Policy and Research (CPPR) and was held at the TAG Centre, Chennai. The event venue sponsor was TAG Group of Companies.

The participants of this event of success comprised of delegates-foreign ambassadors (current and retired officials), retired officials from the Indian Administrative Service, senior fellows from the field of policy think tank, journalists and the more than 40 students from various educational universities in Chennai.

The event began with the Welcome and Inaugural address by Commodore R. Seshadri Vasan, Indian Navy (Retd.); Director, Chennai Centre for China Studies (C3S); Regional Director, NMF-Chennai Chapter; and Head, Strategy and Security Studies, Centre for Asia Studies. He started out his speech with a tone of celebration by mentioning this being the second event focusing particularly on the topic of ‘People to People Relations’. This theme has been the bedrock of civilizational connect since the ancient age. Besides, this year has been celebrated as the ‘Year of the Dog’ in China and the amount of significance it holds for the people in China grabbed much of the audience’s attention. Also, he gave an example of Professor Xu Fancheng (who was indologist and artist who spent 27 years of his life translating the works of Sri Aurobindo and Mother to Chinese) as to transcending transnational boundaries are beyond reasons of just economy, technology, medical, etc.; rather it is extensively give and take of cultural/ religious practices, ideas and lifestyle.

Followed by this, the theme address was given by Shri B.S. Raghavan, Former Policy Advisor to the UN (FAO), Chief Secretary, State, Governments of West Bengal and Tripura; and Patron, C3S. His words of wisdom brought about the distinctions among various countries democracies- including India, China and the USA and how their pattern treats its people. He started by pointing out to the focal point of reference where said that people are aware of the cultural viances, norms and morals and that certain key actors of critical spearhead needed to be identified who are responsible for the Ripple Effect- a process of irradiating ideas. These actors included- students who are a part of the India-China exchange programs, NGOs and policy think-tanks and also the language/cultural organisations/ centres. Further, he turned towards pointing out the complexes involved in the Indian thinking towards the Chinese from the instances which goes back to the 1962 historical experiences till the current issues faced with respect to the border question. He highlighted how India has drawn strict boundaries in terms of its thinking towards China and Chinese. Finally, he stressed on his solution of the need for a balanced approach by gaining the self-confidence among the youth and hence, the history should be left behind and the policies formulated should be futuristic in approach.

The Keynote Address was given by Mr Ashok Kantha, Former Ambassador of India to China and the Director of Institute of Chinese Studies, Delhi. According to him, enhancing people to people relations could be seen as drivers of growth for both countries. Also, he asserted the author’s point of argument from the book- India, China and the World by Sen, Tansen that the analysis of India-China connections must be extended beyond traditional frameworks of nation-states or bilateralism where the people’s relations with objects, time and space needs to be comprehended to better understand the interactions between people and further extends about the relevance that this statement holds in the current scenario. However, on an ending note, he mentioned that there always lie differences in public hearing and public sentiments due to the series of histories of anxiety. Hence, his solution called for an uncertain mix of cooperation, coordination and management.

Mr Sashi Nair, Director of Press Institute of India extended his vote of thanks to the dignitaries and the others so responsible for this event’s success. He spoke about China’s perception of Indian media and vice versa. He gave certain figures quantifying India’s positive and negative opinions about China and vice versa to give a better understanding of the kind of opinion one nation has about the other.

Followed by the above sessions, the first plenary session was chaired by Ambassador M. Ganapathi IFS (Retd.), Former Secretary (West), Ministry of External Affairs, GOI. The head topic of this session was ‘Evaluating Experiences on India-China Relations’. There were three relevant subtopics that were being covered under that.

Firstly, it was- ‘Role of Confucius Institutes and impact of Chinese language learning in India’ by Mr R. Ravi Deshik, Former Chinese Interpreter and Instructor, Indian Air Force (Retd.). He began his presentation with a story from the legendary tale of Tenali Raman and the lesson which taught the importance of mother tongue in one’s life. He mentioned about the need to patronise and regard any new language rather than either treating it inferior or superior to any other language. Also, he emphasised the importance of the Chinese Confucius Institutes and that establishing them largely in numbers across the Indian nation would act as bridges between China and the world. According to him, Mandarin is not just a language but more of a symbol holding character significance which reflects their way of life which follows a certain set of beliefs, norms and values that actually forms their reality. This has paved China’s way towards opening up Business Communication and Entrepreneurship and also that China is encouraging Foreign Language Learning. Finally, he ends his presentation with a quote of conclusion- “Good neighbours are better than distant relatives”.

The second subtopic was covered by Ms. Sifra Lentin, Mumbai History Fellow,  Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations, Mumbai on ‘The Indian Chinese community: A rich past, an uncertain present, and the importance of building bridges with this Indian Diaspora’. Her main focus was on the Chinese communities in Bombay and Calcutta and that the Calcutta community acted as the host community. Since her knowledge about this community was vast and deep, her talk viewed the issues through the prism of the geopolitical, geo-economic, historical and ethnographic point of view. She covered topics with certain interesting facts from her previous research experiences which highlighted on the Chinese history in India- Chinapara and Hakkapara in Calcutta, the different types of Chinese cuisines in India- Cantonese and Hakka, the Chinese working pattern- which includes mentorship and apprenticeship, the ancient Huapei Dentistry technique, the Shandong community of merchants involved in the activity of selling silk in India, about the 1949 and 1962 event and about the Chinese community in Toronto and the Indian Chinese in India.

The final subtopic under this session was about ‘The Role of films in promoting India-China inter-people relations’ by Mr L. Ashghar Ali, CEO, IRIS Media Film and Culture Works Private Limited, Chennai. He mentioned about the challenges faced by the Media industry in China where he termed it be a “highly-neglected” industry in China where it is entirely State regulated. Mr Ali identified certain key elements from both the nations which could be of economic significance as well as enhance the people to people relation. From India, he identified that the Indian media has its own talent, screenplay and content and China has its own big market which could best act as a linkage between these two countries.

The second plenary session was chaired by Ambassador Ashok Kantha on the topic- ‘Future Trajectories’. The subsequent subtopics followed.

The first subtopic was covered by Mr Bikash Kali Das, China Collaboration Analyst on ‘Template for people to people relations: Pondicherry- China Relations’. His presentation provided a quick overview of the India- China people to people relations covering from historical ties between the two countries, the Diaspora situation in both the nations, the China’s culture- tea culture, cigarette culture, the Chinese Baijiu and the other interesting cultures, role of Social Media in Indo-China relations, the Medical Industry in India and China and so on. He insisted on the need for the IT sector involvement in creating a platform for social media interaction between the Indians and Chinese.

The second subtopic was about ‘India-China-Tibet: Cultural Relations’ by Mr Claude Arpi; China Analyst based in Pondicherry. He started out his talk with an argument- “Past is not past, in the case of Doklam at least”. His vivid experiences with this particular subject made him highlight about India’s presence in Tibet from a historical perspective and how the situation continues to deteriorate due to the border question which has practically been closed to people to people exchange. He drew his point of reference to the current scenario where the relations between Tibet and India are extremely limited, especially after the Doklam episode. He concluded by saying that the governments should understand the significance of border personnel meeting points and the Border Trade and Management issues for better prospects. He finally stressed the necessity to enhance the pilgrimages, mainly the Kailash Mansarovar with better operational missions to negate the notion of a bleak future.

The final subtopic for the session ended with Mr Devdip Ganguli’s ‘The Life and Legacy of Xu Fancheng: A Spiritual Bridge between India and China’. The speaker is a Faculty Member, Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education, Pondicherry. He said that India-China relations are primarily and majorly viewed from the prism of geopolitical and economic perspectives. However, he said that it should be noted that the most influential civilisational exchanges between the two nations were historically in the fields of spirituality, culture and philosophy. In this context, he brings in the importance of understanding the legacy of the Chinese scholar Xu Fancheng who had spent who was indologist as well as an artist who spent 27 years of his life translating the works of Sri Aurobindo and Mother to Chinese. He concluded his talk by mentioning that much of Xu’s work holds much relevance today among the academics and spiritual seekers in China and the prevalence of insularity in our relations despite living in globalised and far trading world. The signs of new openings were to begin to factor these spiritual and philosophical elements rather than just rely on economic, military and geopolitical factors was his suggestions towards enhancing India-China people to people relations.

Mr Sashi Nair chaired the third plenary session on the topic- ‘Catalysing Connections’. Under this topic, there followed two subtopics.

The first one was covered by Mr Muraleedharan Nair, Senior fellow, CPPR, Kochi on ‘Where do the solutions lie for enhancing movement of people across the two states?’ Mr Muraleedharan Nair began his presentation where he pointed out the factual elements along with his experiential learning related to the relations between India and China- their income growth rate, GDPs, other current economic and political scenarios and at the same time identified these as factors of hidden hindrances between these nations. He also identified other barricades in people to people relation such as copyright regulations, less visa application centres that are currently available in both countries which acts as a huge legal barrier to mobility, the disparity in the number of Indian tourists visiting China and the Chinese tourists visiting India and many others. For him, what possibly could be done to attract the people from China as how the Pakistanis are attracted to India for its Bollywood industry was to increase the number of Indian publications for the Chinese people to make them aware of India’s situation, Indian bureaucracies should turn considerate enough in dealing with China, incentivise the need for the Chinese to pursue their education and research in India and increase medical tourism.

The second subtopic covered under this session was- ‘Thinking out of the box: Role of Think Tanks in synergizing citizens of India and China’ by Mr. K. V. Thomas, Former Assistant Director (Retd.), Intelligence Bureau (IB), India; Fellow, National Police Academy, India and currently a Senior Research Fellow of CPPR, Kochi. He recognised that the non-state actors-like the policy think-tanks, NGOs and civil society could play a vital role in strategising the model of ‘soft power’ as an attractive way of exercising power in a multi-polar age of International Relations. His presentation talked about how the leading think-tanks could contribute towards the process of synergising people to people relations in both the countries. According to him, the merits of democratic and socialist governance (“Not Communism, but Socialism of the Chinese variety”, as he says) could be used as ‘force-multiplier’ in enhancing cooperation between the citizens of both the countries. He also felt the necessity for the think tanks of India and China to take initiatives for the exchanges and meetings between intellectuals to work out joint strategies and research projects to strengthen people to people connection. Additionally, he also felt the need for the NGOs and think-tanks to diversify their actions and reorient their style, operations, forms and functioning. Finally, he concluded by suggesting that there was a need for decentralisation of think–tank projects from the power centres to the other parts in vast nations like India and China.

The final plenary session was a panel discussion on ‘Role of enhancing India-China people to people ties in improving overall relations between India and China, and Way Ahead’. This discussion was chaired by Mr Muraleedharan Nair along with the panellists- Mr R. Ravi Deshik; Mr Devdip Ganguly; Mr Bikash Kali Das; Ms Chen Shonk Youn, Chinese Interpreter, Chennai and Ms Asma Masood, Research Officer, C3S. This was a session of summarised suggestions from the foregoing discussions. Mr Raman Ravideshik, one of the panellists went about by saying it is the present young generation which is going to determine the relations between India and China after 25 years. He also said that it was essential for the children of both these societies to understand the similarities in their societies and thinking process since India has always been portrayed mostly negatively in any of the Chinese news items.

Ms Chen Shonk Youn, the second on the panel, spoke about how India and the Indians are fortunate enough to live in their country when its government does not enforce upon things as how it is in China. This statement was made by her in the context of China’s previous One Child policy where the status of females (both girls and women) deteriorated and also a penalty was imposed on the family bearing the second child. Moreover, she also appreciated India for its disaster management controls whereas she felt that China had to improve on it.

Mr Devdip Ganguli, the third panel member, suggested about how India should face China with the sense of pride and self confidence and this self confidence needed to stem from our fortunate factors. Also, India should learn from China on the subject of infrastructure. According to him, India needed to explore its strengths and weaknesses so as to build on to the nation’s bank of wisdom and knowledge. And the Chinese have always regarded wisdom and knowledge. Further, from his perspective, enhancing the people to people relation should not be restricted to the border question alone, instead should be extended to this aspect as well since it is also exchange of ideas, perspectives and philosophies which would play an interim role.

Mr Bikash Kali Das, the next panellist emphasised on the need for a common social media platform for both the countries to increase their interaction levels. The second point he raised was about Medical Tourism-to attract more people from China to visit India for medical purposes and requirement for Indian pharmaceutical sector intervention towards this. Also, he stressed about the strengthening of our cultural collaborations between India and China and told that the MCGI (India) and CCA should join hands. The fourth point which he pointed out was to increase and attract Chinese students towards India since there is an imbalance in the number of students’ part of the foreign exchange programs between these nations and increase scholarship for the Chinese students. His final point of contestation was to open up more Chinese art galleries in India which would add to enhancing the people to people relations in both the countries.

Ms. Asma Masood described how the Young Minds of C3S forum is heralded as a template for better understanding among the youth of both countries. She reiterated that there do exist some social media forums via which Indians can chat with Chinese people. Kik is one instance, which has an app and website as well. Besides, there are many Chinese students in South India who can be engaged with about their experiences here. These measures will not see results overnight but will reap rich rewards and leave behind a legacy of enhanced relations for the future generations of both countries.

Mr Muraleedharan Nair talked about India-China border crisis problems and suggested that there were many lessons to be learnt from them and stressed on the need for an unofficial government nudge to improve the relations between the two countries and also the young generation should get inspired to visit China in a learning spirit.

After every plenary session, an active participation was noticed with a question and answer session where the audience turned inquisitive towards questioning the chair and the panel members.

Ultimately, the conference ended with Prof. Suryanarayan’s (who was Former Professor at the Nelson Mandela University for Afro-Asian Studies, Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam; Former Director, Centre for South and South East Asian Studies, University of Madras; and is President, C3S) concluding remarks and the final vote of thanks. Gratitude was expressed to the participants, the conference organizing team, Mr. Chari of TAG Group of Companies, PII and CPPR. It was highlighted how India has not exploited much of its cultural diplomacy in this particular issue and demanded the need for realignment. Also, he necessitated in reducing the visa fee for the Chinese who actually have been spending a lot (in dollars) travelling to India. Finally, he concluded by saying that we all needed to cultivate consciousness in our minds about the working systems of both these nations-India and China- to understand their situations better.

This conference report is compiled by S. Shalini, Intern,  Chennai Centre for China Studies. This report was first published here: https://www.c3sindia.org/past-events/international-conferenceenhancing-india-china-people-to-people-relations/

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