Recent Visit of a Multi-Think Tank Delegation to China
Brig Vinod Anand, Senior Fellow, VIF

A multi-think delegation of Indian scholars (Gateway House, Jindal University, India Foundation, ORF, and FORE School of Business Management) visited and interacted with Chinese scholars, officials, corporate agencies and academics in different universities and think tanks in the first week of December 2019. The delegation had interaction with officials of the Department of Asian Affairs of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China’s Foreign Affairs University (where experts and scholars on India and South Asia from China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, China Institute of International Studies and Tsinghua University were also present) and also had discussions with China’s Tibetology Research Institute in Beijing. The delegation also visited Chengdu and took part in a seminar on India-China relations organized by the Sichuan University. In the last leg of the visit the delegation travelled to Kunming, Yunnan and had in depth deliberations with scholars of Yunnan University and their Institute of South Asia and South East Asia Studies.

The overall purpose of the visit was to exchange view related to India- China relations, India’s neighbourhood policy, developments in South Asian nations, Indo –Pacific Strategy of US, developing India- US relations, India’s response to Regional Comprehensive Partnership (RCEP) and the possibilities related to developing synergies between India and China in different fields. The delegation was taken to the exhibition celebrating the 70 years of the communist rule and the leaders of the Chinese Communist party were given a prominent place in the exhibition. However noticeable thing was that Xi Jinping was given the same stature as that of Chairman Mao and

Interestingly, the first interaction of the delegation was at the China Tibetology Research Center which was established in 1986 and the purpose of the institution was to develop the study of Tibet on the lines of tradition, culture, medicine, philosophy and medicine. The institute director informed that China regularly organizes international seminar on Tibet and invites international scholars to explore the Tibetan history religion and culture. The interaction was primarily to highlight the development of the Tibetan region and the relative increase in the per capita income of the region. The delegation was informed that per capita has grown multifold after China started infrastructure projects in the region. The discussion as also regarding the role of the religious seats of power and how the Tibetan monks’ self-immolation was primarily from one particular monastery. The institute also hosted the delegation for an exposition of Tibetan history and highlighted the fact that the Karmapa and Dalai Lama incarnation were approved by the Chinese emperors earlier also and this has been the tradition for ages. Evidently, the objective was to promote the narrative that installation of next Dalai Lama can only be done with their approval.

Following the meeting at Tibetan research center, the scholars had a meeting with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the discussion as held with the Deputy Director General of the Ministry handling Asian affairs who was also accompanied by the India desk expert. The main issues that were posed by the Chinese side was with regard to the slow movement in the trade and related issues and the problem of lack of trust between the two sides. Interestingly, the expression from the Chinese side was that the developments in South Asia are happening at a very fast pace and China would like to build confidence with India through the 2+1 dialogue (a la India-China cooperation on training of Afghan diplomats) where the two countries can sit down with the third country to discuss infrastructure and other developmental projects. The discussions also veered around India’s strategy with regard to Indo –Pacific and how India looks into the political developments in Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Myanmar. The discussion was also related to the Chinese stance on Masood Azhar and how the China Pakistan Economic Corridor is hampering the confidence building efforts between the two countries. There was no departure from the already stated position of China on these issues.

Subsequently, the meeting was held at Pangoal Institute, the one of the very few private institutes of China. The discussion in that institute was particularly focused on the different kinds of agreements that India has signed with US- LEMOA and COMCASA, in particular, and how India looks at the Indo-Pacific strategy. The second item of discussion was related to RCEP and whether India will be keen to join it given the fact that Japan has also withdrawn from RCEP on the condition that without India it would not join RCEP. Chinese scholars felt that there is a strategic ploy in this move. The discussion was also included India’s neighbours and the discourse veered around India’ stance on the new Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and how Sri Lankan politics would shape up in near future.

Following the meeting at Ministry of Foreign Affairs the next day meeting was at the China Foreign Affairs University and the two specialists from Chinese side also joined the meeting. The discussion was shaped up as the seminar on India and its neighbourhood and the discussion points were identical like in the earlier interactions with think tanks and foreign affairs ministry. The discussion featured about the developments in Pakistan and also Article 370 and the issue related to India’s hardline position on Pakistan. The perception among the Chinese scholars was that there is need to develop P2P contacts, discuss good governance initiatives and also develop synergies in health, sports.

The question of UN reforms also cropped up and how the developments in Afghanistan would impact the region. The major issues and concern from the Chinese side was why Nepal was listed in US Indo-pacific strategy, and why India is not concerned about US presence in Sri Lanka. The Chinese speaker Hu Shisheng then informed that China India relations are dependent on five ‘T’s which are Trade Imbalance, Trust, Terrorism m Territorial disputes and Third party (particularly US). (A separate article on the subject is already on our website- here).

The delegation visited the Sichuan Energy Industry Investment and the exchange of views was related to lithium batteries, energy distribution costs. The Chinese side also informed that there are possibilities with regard to exploration of Coal Bed Methane but the cost might be an issue. The interesting information shared by the Chinese side was that with better energy management the solar and wind power can complement each other during day and night time thereby providing continuous supply of power to the consumers. Thus, there was an ample scope for bilateral cooperation in this respect.

The delegation also had meeting with Sichuan University where issues such as Indo-Pacific with particular concern related to geographic area, strategic connotation, and economic implications of the construct. The RCEP issues was again discussed at length and it was agreed that the differences need to be addressed in an amicable way. The issue of ASEAN centrality and the developments in east, South and Southeast Asia was also discussed. The common perception from Chinese side was that India is not enthusiastic about joining RCEP. This might be a ploy by Chinese side to elicit information from the delegation about the internal discussions on the subject.

The last leg of the visit was to the Provincial Party School in Kunming and Yunnan University. The Party school leaders explained the approach of training to the cadres and officials under the direct control of party and how party agendas and objectives are highlighted during such meetings. The party officials informed that the funds are provided by the Central party headquarters and also provincial party offices. The role of such schools was to develop responses to the impending issues and questions in the minds of party officials. To fight corruption also Party schools develop network with its alumni.

At the Yunnan University, scholars from Institute of Indian Studies, Institute of South Asia Studies and School of South Asian and South East Asian Language and cultures, Yunnan Minzu University took part in the deliberations. Interestingly, an India-China Yoga College has been opened under the aegis of Yunnan Minzu University in collaboration with India. There were plans to open more such colleges in the coming years. The Yunnan scholars were also keen to know about the status of BCIM but the Indian side brought out some issues of BCIM Economic Corridor and conveyed to them it may not be realized in near future.

Overall, the mutual exchanges on a wide variety of bilateral issues helped the both sides to enhance their understandings of positions taken by both countries on the various facets of their relationship.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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