Both sides emphasised on establishing strategic communication, build consensus on certain issues and give overall direction to bilateral relations.
In April 2018, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping met for an informal summit in Wuhan, I remember President Xi telling Prime Minister Modi through an interpreter that the bronze statue of “antlered crane” that attracted PM Modi’s attention in the Wuhan Museum dated back to 433 BC and that it was discovered from the tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng of the Spring and Autumn Period. A little later, PM Modi was seen striking the famous 64 bianzhong or the chime bells discovered from the same tomb. It is in these bells that the date has been inscribed exactly showing that the artefacts are 2,400 years old.
The Spring and Autumn Period was the time when Chinese silk handicrafts had already entered India. India’s Arthasastra mentions of kauseyam cinapattasca cinabhumijah (cocoons and Chinese fabrics are the products of China). Greek and Roman businessmen sailed to India long time ago and bought Chinese silk from Indian markets. The line “What characteristics does the moon have, that it perishes and rises again? What is that good thing it has? Isn’t it that rabbit in its belly?” in Qu Yuan’s 4th century BC narrative poem “Heaven Questioned” is believed to have come from the Indian legend of “rabbit on the moon”. These are the findings of the great Chinese scholar Ji Xianlin on whom Government of India conferred the Padma Bhushan in 2008 for his contribution towards Indology. Professor Ji is of the view that the line “God releasing his disc and decapitating Yin from Yang” from the above poem is the depiction of the Samudra Manthan story in which Indra decapitates Rahu and Ketu. How many in India and China know that during the time under reference, the civilisational dialogue between India and China was already in place, and the traces of it could be discovered in the textual tradition of both the countries?
In the same vein, the selection of Mamallapuram or Mahabalipuram, which is located in the district of Kanchipuram, the capital city of the Pallava dynasty (275-897) reinforces the civilisational linkages between India and China. For example, the first ever reference to Kanchipuram found in the Chinese texts dates back to the 2nd century BC. A detailed description of the sea route between China and Kanchipuram, spelled as Huanhzhi (Kanchi) is found in Chinese historian Bangu’s Han Annals. The reference states that “Huangzhi is big and population huge, and abounds in exotic products… The interpreter, who is a royal official accompanied other assignees to the sea to buy pearls, beryl (vaduriya), precious stones and other exotic products and bartered it with gold and varieties of silks… During the Yuanshi Era of Emperor Ping when Wang Mang executed government affairs, as he wished to show off the brilliance of his majestic virtue, sent rich gifts to the king of Huangzhi, in return Huangzhi sent an embassy along with the present of a live rhinoceros… To the south of Huangzhi lies the country of Sichengbu (present day Sri Lanka) it is from here that Han interpreter returned.”
It could be established that South India, at least from 2nd century BC, had good trade and diplomatic relations with China. This relationship was further strengthened throughout the Pallava dynasty (275-897) and Kanchipuram became one of the major trading centres between the Pallavas and the Tang dynasty (618-907) of China. Chinese and Roman coins have been found at Mamallapuram, exhibiting that it was a global hub of trade during ancient times. Great scholar-monk Xuan Zang, who visited Kanchipuram in 640, records that the “city was 6 Chinese miles in circumference and that its people were renowned for their bravery, piety, love of justice, and veneration for learning”. Bodhidharma, the Pallava prince from Kanchipuram, who reached China in 547 is also an important link between India and China, as he is the one who is credited with disseminating Zen into China along with the Shaolin martial art. So no wonder, the civilizational rebalancing between India and China during the summit has been the foremost theme. Both India and China have a consensus to restore their civilizational glory.
Secondly, the rebalancing of political relations in wake of the Wuhan Summit has been reiterated. Both sides emphasised on establishing strategic communication between the leaders, build consensus on certain issues and give overall direction to the bilateral relations. For example, India and China agreeing to issue strategic guidance to their militaries to build trust and mutual understanding. Both sides reached a consensus that differences between the two should not become disputes, which I believe has worked well for India and China so far. There would not have been much headway on the border issue, nonetheless, emphasis has been given on maintaining peace and tranquillity along the border. India would not have shied away from objecting to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, and reminding China to be sensitive towards each other’s core interests, albeit PM Modi may thank again the Chinese President for supporting India in declaring Masood Azhar as an international terrorist.
Thirdly, an obvious rebalancing of trade and investment has dominated the discussions. India-China bilateral trade, which has touched a historic $95.54 billion, is expected to reach the $100 billion mark this year. This could be a difficult task as data available for the first five months of the 2019 showed a decline of 3.59% owing to the economic slump in both countries. What should be a welcome sign is that the much talked about trade deficit of India came down by $10 billion to $53 billion in 2019. China passing a law allowing India’s generic drugs in Chinese markets is a welcome sign. Besides, India’s marine products especially fish, and molluscs; tea, coffee and spices, cotton and fruits showed massive jump. China’s exports to India such as electrical equipment, organic chemicals, plastics and fertilizers registered a sharp increase. Conversely, Chinese investment in India has risen exponentially. It has touched the $10 billion mark, of which $5 billion was pumped in by the Chinese venture capitalists in the Indian start- ups, mostly in “Digital India” and “Make in India”, surpassing the investment from Japan and the US in 2018.
As China undergoes economic restructuring, India and China are giving full play to their complementarities. No wonder, today, near about 2,000 Chinese companies have invested in India, providing employment to over 200,000 people. The entire supply chains as regards labour intensive industries such as mobile telephony, electronics, home appliances etc., have been shifted to India. For example, mobile phone manufacturing clusters in Noida, electronics manufacturing in Chennai, white electrical appliances facilities in Pune, optical fibre industry in Hyderabad, and solar panel manufacturing in Bangalore are some of the examples of China shifting their bases to India. This scope is likely to expand and diversify in other areas as China and US continue to lock horns in the ongoing trade war. India’s agricultural sector, including food processing industry will certainly reap some of the benefits.
Fourthly, there would a consensus on their global rebalancing in terms of multipolarity, globalisation and global governance. Both India and China stand for a multipolar world and seek to share greater responsibilities in the global power structure. They are together on the question of global terrorism. Their joining hands in various multilateral institutions such as BRICS, SCO, G20, AIIB and convergences on issues like climate change speak volumes on this. At the same time, it must not be construed that their coming together on these platforms is meant to reshape or challenge the rules of existing order or replacement of the existing institutions or willing to share power would be a big mistake. Why should they challenge the existing international order when the same has benefited both the nations immensely? They know that it was in the process of globalization that India and China have been able to alleviate over 300 and 700 million people from poverty, respectively. The alleviation of over 1 billion people from poverty in such a short time is a miracle in the history of humankind.
Finally, both need to work hard on the resolution of problematic issues. The above rebalancing could be rendered meaningless by any unpleasant standoff like Doklam. If the China-Pakistan axis is troublesome to India, so are Quad, the Indo-Pacific strategy and India cosying up to the US, to China. Therefore, both may have to rebalance their approaches, especially China should be willing to share power with India in the region rather than seeking parity for its pivots. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to put India-China relations in the binary of either friends or enemies, for the relationship is too complex and encompasses elements of cooperation, coordination, competition and even conflict and confrontation. Therefore, to handle such a relationship perhaps an informal summit is a better bet.
B.R. Deepak is Professor of Chinese Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.