India and China have taken to Track Two diplomacy to smoothen the many rough edges in their ties which had worsened during the three-month standoff over the border in Doklam, writes P.K.Balachandran in South Asian Monitor.
It is not a hush hush type of Track II, but an open one, in which people from various walks of life from the two countries meet to talk things over, come to appreciate each other’s concerns, and become a pressure group in each other countries to foster better ties at the highest government levels.
Many Indians are invited to participate in seminars in China and come back with positive notions. The need for people-to-people contacts was emphasized by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India ,China, South Africa) summit held at Xiamen in China on September 3 and 5.
In his speech at the summit made expressed fulsome appreciation of China’s projects to enable people-to-people contacts between BRICS countries.
Two of the institutions engaged in the India-China Track II are the New Delhi-based India Foundation headed by Ram Madhav, National General Secretary of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and the World Peace and Communication Association (WPCA), a New York-based NGO headed by Vice President Marina Jiang and Secretary General, Zhang Ji Yuan.
Madhav had invited Zhang Ji Yuan and Marina Jiang to participate in the Second Indian Ocean Conference (IOC) held in Colombo on August 31 and September 1 along with Ruan Zongze of the China Institute of International Relations and a delegation from the Peking University.
While Ruan made a significant speech at the conference, Marina Jiang briefed the assembled media on the aims and objectives of the WPCA.
Jiang said that WPCA Secretary General Zhang Ji Yuan and Ram Madhav had “reached an agreement on the need to increase people to people exchanges to have better understanding and to establish fast and effective communication to solve issues at any early stage.”
“WPCA and India Foundation will be the bridge to facilitate such exchanges,” she added.
Explaining the WPCA’s mission, Jiang said that the organization aims to bring youth from various countries together to establish links and build bridges linking the emerging generation of Chinese leaders with the emerging generation of leaders from other countries to build a better tomorrow based on mutual understanding.
Welcoming the Indian Ocean Conference, organized the India Foundation, Jiang said that the Indian Ocean “is at the heart of the global economy. The Chinese people and government are committed to making sure that all of us, on all sides of this great ocean, are able to benefit together. Or to put it in nautical terms: we want smooth sailing for everyone!”
Jiang said that the Indian Ocean is part of the global economy and quoting Chinese President Xi Jinping, she said: “ the global economy is the big ocean you cannot escape form.”
“The Indian Ocean is the heart of the global economy,” Jiang added.
She pointed out that the international community faces a series of interlocking challenges ranging from terrorism to climate change, but no single country can face these challenges alone. Global cooperation is therefore a must, Jiang added.
The basis for cooperation already exists, because the present day world is based on inter-connectedness.
“It is in recognition of such inter-connectedness and of the need to improve it and put it to best use, that China has devised the One Belt One Road (OBOR) connectivity project,” she said.
“The OBOR will enable Southeast Asia, South Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, Central and Eastern Europe become a hotbed of trade and prosperity,” Jiang said.
Addressing the criticism that the OBOR is a challenge to the emergence of the Indian Ocean as a distinct and coherent economic region, Jiang said that the Chinese government and people view the OBOR as being a key part of the Indian Ocean region linking the latter to the integrated global economy.
“The OBOR initiative seeks to promote mutual growth and stronger relations while also respecting the independence, sovereignty and cultural heritage of every participating nation,” she clarified.
“We are building a platform for all shareholders, governments, businesses, NGOs and students across all countries, to make progress on issues that will shape our future,” Jiang added.
No region can be defined narrowly in this highly globalized and integrated world. The definition of the Indian Ocean will necessarily have to be an inclusive one, she argued.
China Wants To Be Part of South Asia and IOR
China’ keenness to belong to South Asia and the IOR was made clear by Ruan Zongze of the China Institute of International Relations.
“China is a South Asian country,” he declared from the podium as many eyebrows in the assembly went up.
“China has land borders with five of the South Asian countries (India, Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim and Pakistan) and it is a 4,000 km border with them. Historically, it has had links with the Indian Ocean. There is a evidence of its trade with Sri Lanka in 1409.There have been cultural and religious links with the region. Moreover, China is now a heavy user of the Indian Ocean. Seventy percent of China’s oil imports come from West Asia via the Indian Ocean,” Ruan said.
China shares with the countries of the Indian Ocean certain interests such as economic development through cooperation and investment, the Chinese scholar said even as he denied that China has any special interest in the region.
“China is interested in the peaceful development of the region and is keen that the Indian Ocean does not become a theater of a cold war,” he added.
Ruan was emphatic that it has been China’s principle to settle disputes peacefully and ensure freedom of navigation.
On the South China Sea, Ruan said that the disputes have been only with countries which share a maritime border with China and it has been China’s policy to settle these issues amicably.
As early as 1988, Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping had proposed to settle disputes with the Philippines and Vietnam peacefully. Deng had suggested that disputes be shelved and joint oil exploration taken up instead. But sadly because of a change in government, the exploration was not taken up.
Ruan denied that China is not allowing Freedom of Navigation. If any country is denying freedom of navigation, it is the United States., he said Two Destroyers of the US navy had interfered with the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea by creating incidents.
On the charge that China has rejected arbitration as a method of settling disputes, Ruan said that China accepted UNCLOS in 2006 but it did not accept arbitration because UNCLOS allows that, and other countries like the UK. Australia and France have also rejected arbitration.
Ruan Zongze believes that the world is large enough to accommodate both China and India and that a lot can be achieved if the two cooperate.
(The featured picture at the top shows Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi aad Chinese President Xi Jinping at a cordial meeting in Xiamen)