My China connection is long and enduring!

China is not an easy country to know and understand!

What Narayanamurthy doesn’t tell!

Yes, there is the latest news about India-China mutual suspicion persisting. No one tells the whole truth. That is diplomacy and in our national interest, everyone will tell you. That is okay. But what I am coming to tell here is something much more than all these thoughts.

I have just now come back from visiting Santiniketan; this is my fourth or fifth visit after I left the place in 1959. At Santiniketan there is the famous Cheena Bhavan where I studied Chinese language for four years under the legendary Chinese scholar and a close associate of Tagore, the late Prof.Tan Yun Shan. I needn’t go into so many details but it is enough to tell that Tan was also a close associate of Chiang Kai Sheik, also of Mao and Chou En lai and many other great leaders of China.

As such, when the Chinese Revolution came, Cheena Bhavan went through a period of break with China and only after the new friendship with China, once again relationships were renewed. When Chou En lai came to India in 1958, Nehru sent him to Santiniketan to get an honorary degree conferred on him and Chous visited Cheena Bhavan where we, the students of Chinese language were introduced to him! I have a precious photograph showing me shaking hands with the great Chou!

So, when the time came Prof.Tan advised me to go to China for further studies! I was the best of the lot and yet I declined and went to Oxford. All my other Chinese class mates went to China and became in due course experts of China! Even now, I have links with my ‘China expert’ friends and this time too I met them in Santiniketan and elsewhere. In Bangalore too I received one young man who just now came back from China, another Santiniketan hand.

I have just before me a letter from Tan Lee, the son of Prof.Tan from Canada. All these have been back in my mind when I read that before the Chinese President, Hu Jinto’s visit to Indian November, there was news about the trust deficit with China. Large areas of territory between India and China are in dispute.

Yes, China is still illegally occupying 43,180 sq km of Jammu and Kashmir, including 5,180 sq km illegally ceded to Beijing by Islamabad under the Sino-Pakistan boundary agreement in 1963.China accuses India is possessing some 90,000 sq km of Chinese territory, mostly in Arunachal Pradesh.

The Chinese Ambassador in India, Sun Yuxi, hinted in New Delhi of the trust deficit, India doesn’t allow Chinese investments in strategic areas like ports, or telecom and even in such industries like steel plants etc. Security risks are the reason.

Much more important is the news that India’s investments in China and trade. Yes, the trade with China is growing fast; China might overtake USA in its trade volume with India. But in IT investments, all the big Indian IT companies, TCS, Wipro, Infosys and Satyam have invested in China.” However, despite predictions that Indian companies could come to account for up to 40 per cent of the $30 billion domestic Chinese market for software, so far none of India’s IT heavyweights has been able to make a dent in this market”. “Foreign-owned companies are kept out of the really big, multimillion dollar IT deals at the state-owned enterprises and Indian companies have found barriers like language and culture more challenging to overcome than expected”.

Yes, there are issues in building bridges with China with whom India has some persisting problems.

There is a deep mutual distrust and Indians at many levels must know this basic fact and such recognition of the underlying problems only will help us to build bridges in the future. Businessmen and even lately our so-called China experts, academics don’t tell us the whole truth about China’s myriad problems, social and economic, let alone the peculiar political and other strategic issues and concerns.

As for me, I feel that more open-minded discussions only can help to resolve the persisting misunderstandings. People to people contacts, more air connections, more exchange of students and more exchange of scholars are all needed. In diplomacy, I strongly feel the present mindset of the leaders in New Delhi, the PM keeping the foreign affairs with himself; also going for only retired bureaucrats for advice is no help either. Public figures must adorn our embassies. A more high profile image for India is now in order.

As for our businessmen and investors and IT companies, it is only right that we recognize that as we don’t trust China, so too China doesn’t trust Indian investments beyond some levels. So, we shouldn’t be carried away by talks by businessmen like Infosys mentor, Narayanamurthy about the big opportunities coming from China, except may be in some numbers games in a more low level of quantitative expansions of IT investments. All this doesn’t mean that we should not have an open mind. We should. But then there is a huge barrier of long history, long memories of betrayal and national shame we all endured. All this don’t go away from the collective memories of the people!

I don’t want to go into high state-level policies. But having been a great admirer of the Chinese language, culture and the people of China, both in my personal relations as well as in a more broader, scholarly and other dimensions of life and the large world outside, I  think I have something useful to say in this context. I was also a great admirer of the late K.M.Panikkar whose writings, (his book, In Two Chinas, was the first) I bought in Calcutta when I was student when it came out just then. Panikkar was India’s Ambassador to China, first under the Kuomintang, then also under the Communists.

So, he was uniquely placed to advise Nehru. When he came to Santiniketan and stayed at Uttarayan for the night, I was one of the few students who went to have a glimpse of the man whom I admired greatly and whose books I had read so avidly. So, I  listened to Panikkar’s convocation address, printed and circulated beforehand and it was a controversial address and it even irked Prof.P.C.Baghchi, the learned VC whose face curled up many times, as Panikkar read out his address and I was sitting close to the famed ‘Amrakung’ platform!(The very same platform I visited just recently and when I stood up on the hallowed ground, graced by such great souls like Mahatma Gandhi, Tagore and Nehru and so many others, my very being took a different cosmic spin!) when he addressed us at one Santiniketan convocation. It was he, it was alleged later by many (I dismiss such allegation), who misled Nehru on China matters. But then Panikkar was a historian with a difference and Nehru sought the best advice and so openly.

Unless like now when the Prime Minister Dr.Singh seeks the help of M.K.Narayanan, a serving intelligence official called back from retirement and whose hush-hush diplomacy with his Chinese counter-part (Dai Bingguo) seems to have not produced the desired results so far. Of course Narayanan says he is hopeful of “arriving at a framework for resolution” within the next two to three rounds”. We wish him well.

The point is that restoring relations with China is perhaps the next big thing after restoring relations with Pakistan. Pakistan poses one sort of challenge. China poses another set of challenges. China is seen internationally as the next big Super Power, after USA. Also, China has always been an “odd man out” entity. China had been described variously, an enigma, a puzzle etc. Yes, we have to understand first of all, China is a great civilization, an ancient civilization as ancient as India. So, so many entrenched myths, prejudices are abounding to impact our knowledge and understanding of China. Also, the coming of Communism added to the complications.

Even now China is a Communist country, one party dictatorship and given the difficulty of the Chinese language (my first textbook of Chinese language weighed a few kgs!) and we had to master the Chinese alphabets, characters, through an elaborate process. Prof.Tan was an adept, also a Gandhi-like figure, whose personal charm simply didn’t let me go, once I met him I was tagged to life! So, I endured and survived and of course I became a totally changed person, thanks to Prof.Tan’s influence!

Now, as for China today, it is not easy to get on with China which is so proud of its past, its own imperialist ambitions, see the Tibet problem, a country with so much spiritual links with India (I knew some Tibetan friends in Santiniketan) and Tibetans feel so persecuted and I dare say that our present leaders in Delhi are no match for the enterprise!

My one suggestion, if anybody cares, to the Prime Minister of India is to send out highly competent Indian personalities, scholars or writers, as Ambassador to China. In fact, they should do this for Moscow and Washington too.

Unfortunately, we have lately become addicted to posting retired bureaucrats as Ambassadors. This won’t give India the expected results.

China of course needs to be cultivated vigorously. The way forward is to link up with the past links. The starting point could be to renew the India-China relations through the cultural and institutional links. Let the Cheena Bhavan be the starting point.

What the new developments like Indian IT investments in China don’t tell us is the fact that as on date  the India China trade itself is lopsided, we export(or exported)more iron ore, not manufactured goods, China doesn’t allow IT into its PSUs. China is as suspicious of India as any other country might be.

After all India is a thriving democracy, an open society, multicultural and multilingual country, with a robust secularist credentials, and so the West would respect India more than China in the emerging world strategic dimensions. That is one reason China doesn’t support India for the Security Council membership.

But I am one who believes rather firmly, India shouldn’t seek membership of the Council as if it is an end. India should become a more self-confident nation; let the word go out that, as Pericles said of Athens in the 5th century BC, India must be an education for the world, for democratic practices, for protecting the individual liberty of its citizens, nay of the citizens of the world. Recognition and respect will come in due course when India lives up to its founding fathers’ ideals and visions.

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