Friday, November 9, 2007

India and China - a Harmony of Civilizations

Address of Congress President Mrs. Sonia Gandhi at the Tsinghua University, Saturday, 27th October 2007

India and China - a Harmony of Civilizations

Professor Yan Xuetong,

I am delighted to have this opportunity to visit Tsinghua University, and I thank you for your warm welcome. Your University is one of the leading educational institutions in the world, with a proud record of excellence in many fields. We have much to learn from Tsinghua University, and on how it has responded to the challenges of a globalising world in which knowledge is a central driving force. It is an honour to address such an outstanding academic community.

We in India revere learning and knowledge as you do. We have the utmost respect for our teachers and our elders. At the same time, we believe that our greatest assets are our younger generations. Among you are many who will go on to make a mark in your chosen fields. Many of you will in time rise to the top of your professions and influence the world around you. I am especially pleased to be able to talk to this audience because it is the youth of our two countries, who will shape the future of China- India relations.

The China-India relationship is in some ways unique in history. There is perhaps no other example of two countries, indeed two ancient many-splendoured civilizations, coexisting side-by-side, both in geography and in the realm of ideas, in peace and harmony, almost uninterrupted for millennia. Prime Minister Wen Jiabao put it succinctly and if I may so, with the great empirical precision that China is noted for, and I quote---"during the past 2200 years, for about 99% of the time we have devoted to friendly cooperation between our two countries."Unquote. That is indeed so.

Indian travelers made their way into China over the centuries. They came as messengers of peace, understanding and tolerance. Six hundred years ago, Admiral Zheng He voyaged to the southern coast of India. Much earlier, Chinese pilgrims, such as Yi Jing, Fa Xian and Xuanzang, to name just a few, spent years in India. Xuanzang in particular toured much of the sub-continent in the 7th century and studied in Nalanda University. This was a flourishing centre of learning with international scholars resident, at a time when the great universities of Europe had yet to be even conceived. In more recent times, I am reminded of the medical mission sent by Jawaharlal Nehru himself to China some seventy years back which included the famous Dr. Dwarkanath Kotnis. It was President Hu Jintao himself who, during his visit to India last year, recalled Dr. Kotnis's selfless sacrifice as an outstanding role model to the younger generation.

However, I am not here to talk about the past. I would prefer to address important issues that face us today. How can we build on our long traditions of peaceful contact and exchange to sustain a catalytic partnership that is relevant for the 21st century? This is today's imperative. I firmly believe that we have much to contribute to one another. Our relationship has already assumed increasing importance to the stability and prosperity of the world at large.

People in India admire the tremendous progress China has made since it began its economic reforms in 1978. You have shown the world that it is possible in a relatively short time to substantially eradicate poverty, to inculcate dynamism and to unleash the forces of social and economic creativity. You have successfully transformed China into a dominant force in the global economy.

This is the China that we respect , this is the China we wish to partner in the future. My husband Rajiv Gandhi was greatly impressed during his historic visit to your country nineteen years ago. Allow me to quote from the speech that he delivered at this very university on December 21st, 1988. He said and I quote: "l see optimism in both India and China today; optimism about the progress our countries can make, optimism about realizing our goals of development, optimism about the levels of cooperation we can reach, optimism about the work we can do together to restore our countries to their traditional position in the vanguard of human civilization, optimism about the contribution we can make to rebuilding the world order nearer our hearts' desire."

I was with my husband on that visit and I still cherish memories of our meeting with the Great Leader Deng Xiaoping. The world today acknowledges the reality of an Asian renaissance, and recognizes also the re-emergence of China and India. Our two countries together account for 40% of the world's population. We can and must work and prosper together. The world is big enough to accommodate the growth and aspirations of both our countries.

Scholars have noted that in one sense, the emergence of China and India on the world stage is not a new phenomenon but a return to the old realities. The share of our two countries in the global economy was as high as 48% in 1820 but following decades of colonialisation and subjugation, fell to a mere 7% in 1950. According to present trends, this share will rise to 35% by 2025, and still more in the years ahead.

China has shown the world how much can be achieved with pragmatism, clarity of vision and determination of effort. In India too we have been evolving our economic policies in response to emerging circumstances and challenges. Our own endeavours are now beginning to show results with economic growth at record levels, particularly with the birth of new industries like software and information technology that service the world economy. We are not merely catching up with the developed world; in the coming decades, China and India will be the largest and third largest respectively among the global economies.

Of course, as far as India is concerned, this does not blind us to the fact that even as we develop, within our society we need to address age-old problems of economic and social inequality. As in China, we focus on balanced development. We emphasize not only economic growth but economic growth with social welfare and justice. We give the highest priority to programmes that create employment in rural areas and that provide education, health and nutrition to all our people. We seek both growth and equality. And we do this within our own democratic framework in which people's participation is paramount and every citizen, especially the most deprived and disadvantaged, has a voice.

Our two economies have a great deal in common. I believe we have much to learn from the way that you have approached economic reforms and liberalization. I was last in China eleven years ago. The pace of change I see is truly astounding. Much has also changed in our bilateral relationship. Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to India in 2005 resulted in the Strategic Partnership for Peace and Prosperity. During President Hu Jintao's visit to India last year, our two countries announced a broad strategy for further improvement of our relations.

We are well prepared, therefore, and already have a definite perspective with which to chart the future course of our relationship. We must be guided by the vision that dialogue and partnership must be pursued with consistency and focused effort. There is peace and tranquility on our long border, and outstanding issues relating to the boundary question are being discussed in a comprehensive manner by the special representatives of our Prime Ministers.

Trade is expanding very rapidly. Our governments are exploring new ways to provide an ever greater impetus to our commercial ties. Indian companies are investing in China as are Chinese companies in India. More than just trade, it will be investment that will bring our countries closer together. Indian and Chinese companies are collaborating abroad. For example, we are partners in exploring and producing oil in a number of countries. We are bound to do more now that we have a framework for such cooperation in the field of energy. In multilateral discussions, there is increasing coordination between our two Governments in areas like the WTO and climate change.

Both China and India seek an open and inclusive world order based on the principles of 'Panchsheel' that were founded together by Zhou Enlai and Jawaharlal Nehru in 1954. Pragmatism and mutual self-interest offer a sound basis for the future development of our relationship. We may well have different views and different perspectives on both bilateral and global issues. That is only natural. I have no doubt, however, that there is no problem that cannot be sorted out through free and frank dialogue and discussion.

Friends, I know that Tsinghua University has established a formidable reputation world-wide for study and research in science and technology, including in several frontier areas. There is enormous scope for collaborative efforts between universities such as yours and ours in areas like energy, environment, biotechnology and water resources. There is no race or competition between our two countries. On the contrary, there are numerous opportunities to pool our resources for dealing effectively with common problems and challenges.

History amply shows that our relationship goes far beyond commerce. It is a relationship between two civilizations rather than two trading partners or two nations. This is the framework that we need to revive. If I were to venture to put forward my own expectations, I would say that beyond the economic, we must strengthen our cultural ties.

Is it not regrettable that the wonderful literature of our two countries is not easily accessible through translations and scholarship? Would it not be appropriate if we were able to offer vastly more scholarships to our students to travel between our universities? Would it not bring us closer if the rich and diverse performing arts were able to reach larger audiences in our two countries?

I would like to see our educational institutions, our media, our tourism industries, and our business sectors intensify their efforts to bridge the information gap so that we no longer retain stereotyped images of each other. I would like to see our scholars and intellectuals drawn from different provinces of China and states of India interact more frequently and more thoroughly with each other. I believe that it is possible for us to take up joint projects which can become visible and powerful symbols of bilateral cooperation. These could be in education, public health, science and technology and local governance. The strengthening of our dialogue in the field of water resources concerning the rivers we share, will also be of mutual benefit.

The most important part of our mission is to increase the mutual awareness among our youth, awareness of both our shared past and especially of the future to which we aspire. To use today's language, we should encourage connectivity between our youth. Last year, we have made a beginning with the exchange of youth delegations. But we should have further exchanges between our students and artists, young professionals and creative entrepreneurs. With knowledge comes awareness, with awareness comes understanding, and with understanding comes an appreciation of the benefits of cooperation between our two countries. I see only one possibility between our two countries-that of co-existence with cooperation.

As I end my speech I think of the spirit of the early pioneers who overcame such unimaginable difficulties to foster a bond that has survived through the centuries. Writing in the 5th Century, Fa Xian said of his Chinese countrymen who traversed the long and difficult paths across deserts and mountains as they traveled to India: "They thought of nothing but to do (their) best in (their) simplicity and straightforwardness". It is that definite aim, that simplicity and straightforwardness, that great ideal of the invaluable bond of unity between our peoples, which must be our guide as we chart the future of India-China relations.

Allow me to fast forward almost 1500 years and recall Rajiv Gandhi again who, in the course of the speech I referred to earlier, also said, and I quote: "We are summoned by our past to the tasks which the future holds. We have a mutual obligation to a common humanity. India and China can together give the world new perspectives on a new world order, which will ensure peace among nations and justice among peoples, equity for each and prosperity for all, freedom from fear and freedom from want, a world where we live together in happiness and harmony." Unquote

It is you, the youth, who will give us the reason, the hope and the energy to find new solutions to old problems. It is you, the youth, who will shape the destiny of our relationship. It is you, the youth, with your spirit of boundless optimism and enthusiasm who will give India and China a relationship that will be beneficial to both our countries and to the world as a whole.

Once again, I am delighted to have had the opportunity of visiting your beautiful campus, and meeting you, the future leaders of China. Let us join hands in making our collective vision a reality.

Thank you.

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