‘Building ties for the 21st century’

Srinivasan Ramani, The Hindu | April 2, 2015

On the eve of the 65th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and India on April 1, 1950, the Chinese Ambassador to India, Le Yucheng, in written answers provided to a set of questions posed by Srinivasan Ramani, emphasised the need for a renewal of China-India ties in tune with the realities of the 21st century. Excerpts follow. Later, in an interaction in Chennai, the Ambassador identified several areas, which he suggested present new avenues for cooperation between India and China. These include infrastructure development and regional security apart from already expanding ties.

The Chinese President Xi Jinping had paid a state visit to India in September 2014. Several agreements were signed by the two governments during the visit. Could you let us know about the implementation of these agreements?

During President Xi’s visit, the leaders of our two countries reached consensus on building a closer developmental partnership between China and India. We had charted out a blueprint for development of our bilateral relations in the next five-ten years and opened up a new chapter for our relationship. We had signed 12 agreements on trade and economic cooperation, covering fields like industrial parks, railways, credit and leasing, with cumulative amount of investment and financing of 13 billion US dollars.

Right now we are stepping up efforts to implement the outcomes of President Xi’s visit. I receive various Chinese delegations visiting India almost every day, and I have met with many ministers and other important members of government, visited some Indian cities, including Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata, and Amritsar. Through these meetings and visits, I deeply feel that bilateral cooperation is in full swing, especially in the fields of trade and investment. Railways is undoubtedly the focus of our cooperation. Experts from both sides have met several times and positive progress has been made. The feasibility studies of the project on raising the speed on Chennai-Bengaluru-Mysore section and railway station renovation projects will be finished soon. Dozens of Indian experts have gone to China to receive training in heavy haul transportation. The feasibility study for 1754 km long Delhi-Chennai high-speed rail corridor by the China Railway Siyuan Survey and Design Group is in full swing. Chinese companies are also involved in the bidding for feasibility studies of the other sections of high-speed rail.

Construction in the Pune automobile industrial park, where the plan is to invest $ 5 billion in three phases until 2030, will start soon. The industrial park will create around one lakh jobs and an annual output of 20 billion US dollars on its completion. A well-known Chinese private company Sany has also set up factories in Pune and created hundreds of jobs locally. I recently attended the inauguration ceremony of Huawei’s R&D center in Bengaluru and found that the center employs more than 2,000 local employees. The China Huaneng Group will also invest 3 billion US dollars in Gujarat to build 4000MW coal-fired power plants. Alibaba, Xiaomi and other Chinese companies are also eager to invest in India.

The year 2015 is being observed as the “Visit India Year” in China. The Indian External (Affairs) Minister Sushma Swaraj attended its launch ceremony held in Beijing in February this year. Now the number of Chinese citizens visiting India is growing rapidly even though it is somewhat difficult to get an airline ticket to travel between China and India. The number of Chinese tourists visiting India in the last two months grew by 10 per cent over the same period last year. If India streamlines and facilitates the issuing of tourist visa to the Chinese tourists, I believe the number of Chinese visitors will grow much faster.

It is particularly worth mentioning that both sides have agreed upon a package plan on the Kailash Manasarovar Yatra to the Tibet Autonomous Region of China through Nathula Pass. We hope that this summer the first group of Indian pilgrims will go to Kailash Manasarovar through the new route. The new pilgrimage route is accessible by fast, convenient and secure cars. The two sides have also actively engaged in cultural exchanges recently. During the traditional Chinese Spring Festival, the Guangzhou Acrobatic Troupe visited New Delhi and Gujarat and gave performances, which were immensely liked by the audience. On March 26, the Exhibition of Fine Artworks of Contemporary China opened to a warm reception in Delhi. Pragmatic bilateral cooperation in the economic, cultural and other fields between the two countries has laid down a solid foundation for building a closer development partnership.

Ambassador Le Yucheng. Photo: R Ravindran.
Ambassador Le Yucheng. Photo: R Ravindran.

Prime Minister Modi will visit China in May. What expectations do you have for this visit?

During President Xi’s historic visit, the memorable picture of the two leaders operating the spinning wheel in Gujarat, the home state of the Prime Minister Modi, has been received very well by the Chinese people. The Chinese people believe in reciprocating the courtesy of others. So I’m sure when Prime Minister Modi visits China later this year, he will be warmly welcomed by the Chinese government and people.

PM Modi’s first visit to China since becoming prime minister is the highlight of China-India relations in this year. China attaches great importance to this visit. The two sides are in engaged in close communications preparing for this visit. The Indian External Minister’s visit to China in February and Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi’s visit to India recently attests to the fact that preparations for PM Modi’s visit are in full swing. During the visit, President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang will hold comprehensive, wide-ranging and in-depth discussions with Prime Minister Modi on areas of bilateral, strategic and pragmatic cooperation, cultural and local exchange, and major international issues. Prime Minister Modi will have an opportunity to communicate with China’s business people, young students and other citizens. The companies from both sides are also preparing a series of cooperative projects. If they arrive at consensus then the agreements could be worth no less than $ 10 billion dollars. In short, this visit will be an important and fruitful visit, which will effectively enrich the connotation of closer development partnership between the two countries, and promote China-India relations to a new level.

The Chinese government has announced the “Maritime Silk Route and Silk Road initiatives” (also called “Belt and Road”) recently. Can you explain these initiatives and how they pertain to China-India relations?

The “Belt and Road” initiatives put forward by China aims at achieving the common development and prosperity for the various countries along the “Silk Road Economic Belt” and the “21st Maritime Silk Road” by linking the past with the present, landmass with the seas and the development strategies of various countries. The Vision and Action plans of the initiative have just been issued by the Chinese government. The initiative will forge the four billion people from more than sixty countries in Asia, Europe and Africa into a community of common destiny and common interest. If I may use a musical metaphor, it is not China’s solo, but a symphony performed by all the relevant countries. The “Belt and Road” initiatives will observe the principles of discussing, building and sharing together, through policy coordination, road connectivity, unimpeded trade, monetary circulation and mutual understanding between the peoples of the various countries. These initiatives have been put forward to promote economic cooperation, and are not driven by geopolitics, or an attempt to seek sphere of influence.

Since the launch of these initiatives, significant headway has been made in building new mechanisms and laying down new policy framework. More than 50 countries along the Belt and the Road have expressed support for the initiatives; China has either already signed or is in the process of signing the “One Belt, One Road” cooperation agreements with several countries. A set of programmes involving building infrastructure, setting up of industries and boosting people-to-people contacts have already been started. The first Central Asia International Freight Train from Lianyungang (Jiangsu Province), China to Almaty, Kazakhstan began operation on February 25th. The construction of Line D of the China-Central Asia natural gas pipeline project has already begun. The eastern route of the China-Russia natural gas pipeline project will be constructed very soon and the agreement on the western route will be signed shortly. All the above projects mark the early harvest of the initiatives. The founding of Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank has not only been welcomed by the Asian countries, but developed countries, including France, Germany, Britain, Canada have also clearly expressed willingness to join it. The bank currently has 41 prospective founding member countries.

India enjoys a unique geographical location, was a significant country along the ancient silk roads and spice route, and is situated at the crossing point of the contemporary Belt and Road. India is China’s natural and significant cooperation partner in promoting the “Belt and Road” initiatives. Last year, India became one of the first prospective founding members of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and hosted its second chief negotiators’ meeting in Mumbai in late January this year. In the second half of this year, India will also host the third meeting of BCIM Economic Corridor Joint Working Group. All these reflect the positive and cooperative attitude of India to the “Belt and Road” initiatives. China is willing to strengthen the communication and coordination with India, to link the “Belt and Road” initiatives with India’s “Spice Route” and “Mausam” projects, and bring tangible benefits to the peoples in our two countries and throughout the region.

May we know at what stage are the two countries after the 18th round of talks on boundary negotiations held recently? Can we expect a substantive breakthrough since the commencement of fresh talks recently?

On March 23, 2015, the 18th Special Representatives’ Meeting on the China-India boundary question was held in New Delhi. Yang Jiechi, State Councilor and special representative on the Chinese side and Ajit Doval, the special representative on the Indian side and Indian National Security Adviser, exchanged in-depth views on the boundary question and had strategic communications on bilateral relations and international and regional issues of common concern. This is the first boundary question talk since the Indian new government took office, and after the appointment of the new Indian Special Representative. The meeting was in a friendly and candid atmosphere.

The two sides reviewed the positive progress achieved at the previous special representatives’ meetings over the past years and stressed the progress of the framework negotiation along a right track on the basis of the realized results and consensus while taking the big picture of bilateral relations and the long-term interests of the two peoples into consideration. Both sides reaffirmed the need to properly manage and control conflicts and join efforts to maintain the peace and tranquility in the boundary area before the boundary question is finally settled.

As Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in the press conference held by the Third Session of the Twelfth National People’s Congress recently, the China-India boundary question is a legacy of history. At the moment, the boundary negotiation is in the process of building up small positive developments. It is like climbing a mountain. The going is tough and that is only because we are on the way up. This is all the more reason that we should do more to strengthen China-India cooperation, so that we can enable and facilitate the settlement of the boundary question.

There is a trade imbalance between India and China, with India’s trade deficit being around $37.8 billion in 2014. At the same time, bilateral trade in 2014 topped $ 70.6 billion. How do you think this imbalance can be corrected?

The Chinese side does not like trade surplus and prefers balanced trade. China takes the Indian concern of trade imbalance very seriously. Although the main reason for our trade imbalance lies in objective factors such as the differences in industrial structures of our two countries; we are willing to provide opportunities to increase India’s exports to China.

Since 2008, the Ministry of Commerce of China has sent six trade promotion delegations to boost imports from India. China warmly welcomes the Indian side to expand trade with China through various trading platforms, such as China-South Asia Expo and China Import and Export Fair (Canton Fair), and also the Import Promotion Centres recently built in Shanghai, Tianjin and other cities. In order to increase the popularity of the Indian products, China also welcomes various Indian chambers of commerce to conduct product promotion events in China.

Besides, China hopes that India would ease restrictions on exporting its competitive products such as iron ore etc. to China, reduce tariffs and encourage Indian companies to export more agricultural products. To encourage the Chinese enterprises to invest in India and participate in the “Make in India” campaign, the key is to reduce restrictions and streamline the procedures on the business visas for Chinese business people. More Chinese businessmen will bring more investment, which will help in improving bilateral trade balance.

There is a sense among Indian strategic thinkers and in the media that China’s cooperation with other South Asian countries is part of a policy of encirclement. How would you answer these concerns?

China adheres to peaceful development. China does not have any tradition of expansion, or any intention to expand. India suffered invasion and occupation by other major powers in history, while China as the largest neighbour, always kept friendly relations with India, kept up communication and exchange between civilisations, and has never conspired against India or other neighbouring countries.

The cooperation between China and other South Asian countries is based on the foundation of common development. South Asian countries are willing to cooperate with China, and ride the Chinese express train of rapid development. China is also willing to share development opportunities with South Asian countries. Cooperation between China and South Asian countries is open, transparent, and beneficial to all the concerned countries. There are no ulterior motives and no need for India to worry. China is also willing to work with India to conduct trilateral cooperation and multilateral cooperation in the region, to achieve win-win cooperation and common development.

What’s your view on the expansion of relations between India and the United States?

China and India are the two largest developing countries in the world and the U.S. is the largest developed country in the world. The combined GDP and population of these three countries account for almost 40% of the world. As President Xi Jinping has said on relations between Beijing and Washington, “the vast Pacific Ocean has ample space to accommodate our two great nations” and on relations between Beijing and New Delhi, “If we speak with one voice, the whole world will listen.”

As long as we collectively show enough foresight, courage and open-mindedness, China, India and the U.S. can express similar understanding in three different languages of Chinese, Hindi and English, and thus we can realise the trans-Pacific Ocean and trans-Indian Ocean cooperation in At the end of last year, Jack Ma, founder of the Chinese company Alibaba, mentioned during his India visit that Alibaba has had a 15-year business-to-business relationship with Indian vendors. 400,000 Chinese are buying tea and spices etc. from India through Alibaba and around 1.3 million Indian vendors are doing booming business on Alibaba platforms. Alibaba’s successful listing at the New York Stock Exchange is a glowing testimony of the intertwined interests of and win-win cooperation between China-India-US.

The social systems, historical and cultural backgrounds in China, the U.S. and India are different. However the interests of the three countries are mutually intertwined, and hence “mutual respect” is especially important in our relationships. Every side should respect each other’s core interests and concerns, must respect each other’s choice of the path of development, must recognise that common interests are far greater than differences, and must continue to enhance understanding, broaden common ground and deepen mutual trust through dialogue and consultation. Only then we would able to seek common ground and further expand it while narrowing down differences, and would able to take the road of peaceful cooperation never taken before. China, India and the U.S. have widespread need and immense potential for cooperation in the bilateral and multilateral domains. From interconnecting the world to facilitating trade, from global warming to energy security, from fighting the Ebola virus epidemic to defeating terrorism, every single area requires joint participation, cooperation and contribution from these three countries. These are the expectations of the international community from our three countries and also the very essence of the development of the trilateral relations between China, India and the U.S.


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