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ackie Chan and Bruce Lee are better known Chinese in India than one of the most powerful leaders of the world -- Hu Jintao. This observation spells out how important is the informal route to build bridges between two nations. A nation-wide field survey was carried out in India and China to make an assessment of how people on both side of the border look at each other in different spheres.

The tiger and the dragon

Face2Face

Things aren’t always what they seem. Marketers and magicians rely on this fact to make you see things – the way they want you to see them. Artists and governments do too. But a general survey among the people in both India and China shows how people see through this prism of perception and reality. |18| India-China Chronicle  January-February 2011

Foreign Policy Foreign policy of a nation does not function in a vacuum. It is a product of the prevailing international environment and its geo-centric location, along with the country’s indices in terms of its economic health, military strength and domestic stability. Foreign policies of both countries, India and China, made a concerted effort to engage with the world to become an economic and regional power. With this objective in mind, both countries independently charted their own course based on peaceful coexistence. However, the ever changing geopolitical considerations led to some significant corrective changes in their respective foreign policies. Both countries became independent almost at the same time, India in 1947 and People’s Republic of China in 1949. In the initial years, India’s presence was far more visible in the international arena than China. It was the result of a proactive foreign policy, which crowned India as the leader of the developing nations. It engaged closely with the developed world to act as a bridge for the developing world. In fact, India had good relations with the socialist bloc as well as capitalist western powers. It enjoyed a special status with West Asia and dominating presence in Africa. In almost all multilateral bodies, that came into existence after World War-II, India was one of the founding members, eg., GATT, UN, etc. On the other side, in the initial years China remained isolated due to its internal problems. The first appearance of a Chinese leader before the international community was made at the Bandung Conference. But even after the conference, China’s presence was uneventful in the international arena. During this period, its border disputes with the Soviet Union, traditional differences with Japan, unrest in Vietnam, etc, were some of the distractions for an independent foreign policy. The turnaround came in the 80s, when China’s visibility improved slowly but steadily due to structural reforms. By the late 90’s, China emerged as an economic and military power before the world. By the turn of the century, China became a power to reckon with and its

presence on the globe became more assertive. Sino-Indian relations are still governed by the Panchsheel Agreement, which did not experience any change over time. Presently, the bilateral relations are guided by the five principles of peace, viz, respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, nonaggression, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit and peaceful coexistence, which are also applied to border settlement negotiations. It will be interesting to note how people on both sides view their neighbour’s foreign policy. It is evident from the public perception that economic growth and promoting business abroad accord the highest priority in the foreign policies of both countries. Other strengths of India’s foreign policy as viewed by the Chinese were combating international terrorism, securing adequate supplies of energy, UN peacekeeping responsibilities, promoting peace and cooperation and strengthening UN. Most Indians felt that the strengths of Chinese foreign policy in the order of importance were securing adequate supplies of energy, promoting peace and cooperation, UN peacekeeping responsibilities, strengthening the UN and combating international terrorism. It is interesting to note that the public perception differs on certain aspect of foreign policies of both countries. Chinese accorded combating international terrorism quite high among the strengths of Indian foreign policy. It was largely felt that India was facing the brunt of international terrorism both at its home turf as well as outside. Thus, India’s foreign policy

PD Kaushik is Associate Director of Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Contemporary Studies (RGICS).

January-February 2011  India-China Chronicle |19|


INFOCUS | SURVEY | COVER STORY

Both countries became independent almost at the same time, India in 1947 and People’s Republic of China in 1949. In the initial years, India’s presence was far more visible in the international arena than China. It was the result of a proactive foreign policy, which crowned India as the leader of the developing nations. It engaged closely with the developed world to act as a bridge for the developing world

was more coherent on the issue of combating international terrorism. It is perhaps for the first time that Chinese people have acknowledged that India is a victim of international terrorism. Despite India and China being critically dependent on oil imports, for China, Indians put this issue at a lower priority. This observation can be attributed to the degree of dependency and engagement level (both in terms of exploration, production and imports) of the Chinese government with the rest of the world. In the past, China had aggressively outbid India to gain control over energy supplies from Angola, Kazakhstan, Ecuador and Burma. Likewise, it is interesting to note that Indian perception on the role of China in strengthening the United Nations, or other UN associated responsibilities was ranked as a low priority area. On the other side, Chinese respondents observed that India’s foreign policy accord a high priority to UN and UN associated responsibilities. Most Chinese felt that high priority is accorded because India aspires to be a permanent member of the Security Council. In fact, Indian peacekeeping operations under the aegis of the UN stretch across the globe, perhaps the second largest military contingent after the US.

Various strategic research reports on India and China have been quite critical of the respective foreign policies. Respondents on both sides pointed out different types of chinks in the relations or weakness of the Indian and Chinese foreign policies. It is well known that the border issue is a major thorn in Sino-Indian relations. On the other side, India’s policy towards Tibet and China’s overt and covert assistance to Pakistan act as barriers to normalize relations. By ignoring the official viewpoint, it will be certainly helpful for public policy makers to know how people on both sides look at the weaknesses of the respective foreign policies. It is understandable that the Tibet issue remained as the weakest link of China’s foreign policy in the eyes of Indians, though it is an internal matter for the Chinese. Indian experience of border negotiations and inflexibility of the Chinese had adversely influenced Indian minds, which was identified as another major weakness of China’s foreign policy. Many Indians felt that China had not shown enough commitment in their foreign policy towards concern for international issues, viz the Gulf War, international terrorism, nonproliferation, etc. Besides, other weaknesses

Indian Perception on Weakness of China’s Foreign Policy

Tibet policy Inflexible negotiating agenda Lack of concernon international issues Lack of long-term international goodwill Indifference towards environmental concerns Conflict with Taiwan

Chinese Perception on Weaknesses of India’s Foreign Policy Absence of strong relations with its neighbours Conflict with Pakistan

Tibet policy

Lack of concern on international issues Indifference towards environmental concerns Inflexible negotating agenda

include lack of international goodwill, indifference towards environmental concerns and conflict with Taiwan. Conflict with Taiwan was kept at the lowest by Indians because of ignorance or perhaps the conflict with Taiwan may not have any major repercussions on India due to its negligible engagement with Taiwan. However, most Chinese felt that the major weakness was India’s foreign policy towards its neighbours. With Pakistan, it had fought three wars, ethnic strife in Sri Lanka at the behest of India, frequent skirmishes at the IndiaBangladesh border, inconsistent policy towards Nepal, military intervention in Maldives, etc, |20| India-China Chronicle  January-February 2011

The turnaround came in the 80s, when China’s visibility improved slowly but steadily due to structural reforms. By the late 90’s, China emerged as an economic and military power before the world. By the turn of the century, China became a power to reckon with and its presence on the globe became more assertive

were the telltale of India’s weak foreign policy towards its neighbours. Conflict with Pakistan was ranked second amongst the India’s foreign policy weaknesses. Though India’s official stand on Tibet is quite clear to China, but public perception blamed India for causing unrest in Tibet. Perhaps the Dalai Lama and the existence of the Tibetan government in exile in India have been the reasons for the Chinese public perception. Beside other issues like lack of international concerns and environmental issues, it was a surprise that the Chinese did not feel that India’s foreign policy advocates a rigid negotiating agenda. Chinese rate it as a weakness January-February 2011  India-China Chronicle |21|


INFOCUS | SURVEY | COVER STORY

People, on both sides of the border, look at each other with pride and respect for their achievements. Public perceptions in China and India are quite homogenous. Both sides feel that the other side has a strong influence on global affairs. In other words, Indians feel China’s influence on global affairs is growing; likewise Chinese feel the same way about India

vis-à-vis their own policy, especially in resolving border disputes. A close look at the Chinese response highlighted considerable homogeneity in terms of occupation, region and age, especially for the first three ranked weaknesses. Tibet issue and conflict with Pakistan as major weaknesses of India’s foreign policy, such feelings were highest in the western region. The under- 18 age group (essentially students) felt that India’s foreign policy pursued an inflexible negotiating agenda in the past, which did not allow peaceful settlement of border-related disputes. On the other side, response from Indians was quite heterogeneous in terms of occupation, region and age grouping. Though the Tibet issue was on the forefront and displayed consistency in overall terms. Contrary to belief, the under-18 age group did not see Tibet as a major weakness, as against the priority for the 65+ age group. But government officials and academicians felt that the major weaknesses of China’s foreign policy were an inflexible negotiating agenda. Businessmen ranked lack of concern on international issues and absence of international goodwill as major weaknesses. Even the distribution of response exhibited inherent regional bias, for instance the eastern region emphatically pointed out inflexible negotiating agenda as the weakness of China’s foreign policy. Conflict with Taiwan remained a low priority area consistently for all categories.

China’s Perception on Indian Influence on Global Affairs 17%

14%

18% 51% Cultural & Political Technological Large Market Relations with major powers

India’s Perception on Chinese Influence on Global Affairs 5%

12%

39% 44% Military Trade Large Market International mediation

Chinese Preception on India’s Influence on Global Affairs 37%

63% Strong

Weak

India Perception on China’s Influence on Global Affairs 34%

66% Strong

Weak

|22| India-China Chronicle  January-February 2011

Influence on Global Affairs People, on both sides of the border, look at each other with pride and respect for their achievements. Public perceptions in China and India are quite homogenous. Both sides feel that the other side has a strong influence on global affairs. In other words, Indians feel China’s influence on global affairs is growing; likewise Chinese feel the same way about India. It is evident that citizens of both countries find increasing influence of each other on global affairs, though the reasons they offer may differ. This perception, both in India and China, prevails across all ages, occupations and regions. Indians feel China’s influence on global affairs is due to its manufacturing prowess and trade, whereas most Chinese give the credit to Indian software technology success for its global influence. Few respondents attribute growing influence of India on account of its relations with major powers like the US, the European Union, Russia, Japan, etc. China, USA and India are the top three

ranked countries in the world in terms of active service personnel. But none of the respondents felt that the influence of India and China on global affairs can be attributed to their military might. But a few Indians feel that China’s military might may be a reason for its growing influence in South-east and Far-east Asia, especially the two Koreas, Japan and Taiwan. Undoubtedly, 40 per cent of the world’s consumers reside in India and China, thus the large market is a common reason for the growing influence of India and China in global affairs. Threat Perception It is understandable that the way the media reports to sensationalize the skirmishes on the border, it is bound to escalate the threat perception among citizens on both sides of the border. Besides, ignorance about the ongoing diplomatic initiatives also adds fuel to the fire, viz increased threat perception on account of news report. As a result, a large majority on both sides see each other as a major threat. About 46 per cent Indians view China as a strong threat and 57 per cent Chinese view India as a strong threat. In the light of media reports, it is an

Chinese Preception on India as a Threat 43%

57% Strong

Weak

Indian Perception on China as a Threat 54%

46% Strong

Weak


INFOCUS | SURVEY | COVER STORY

India’s Influence in the China’s Neighbourhood 18%

China as a Military Threat to India

19%

19%

Indian Perception on the Influence of India-US Relations on China 36%

16%

Chinese Perception on the Influence of India-US Relations on China 25%

64% 22%

20% North

West

East

Central

22%

19%

21%

24% South

expected response. However, a close inspection of the results reveals a completely different picture from the anticipated threat. A large majority in India feels that the Chinese threat is in the form of manufacturing (45%) and trade (26%). It appears that Indian manufacturers have not remained untouched with the growing influence of China in the international market in terms of fierce competition. That India is a threat to China is observed from India’s burgeoning manufacturing sector (27%) and trade (16%). Indian products are threatening Chinese producers in fast moving value-added product areas catering to premium segment, especially fashion garments

A market in India

|24| India-China Chronicle  January-February 2011

Govt

Business

Media

Others

Strong

Weak

75% Strong

Weak

Academic

--textiles and leather, engineering goods, gems and jewellery, etc. On the other side, the major threat to China was observed in the form of India’s influence in China’s neighborhood (38%) -- for instance, India’s nuclear prowess, its strained relations with Pakistan, etc. Tibet continues to remain an important issue. Though Tibet is an integral part of China, but Chinese are more wary of the alleged India’s influence on the internal politics of Tibet. On the issue of India’s influence in China’s neighborhood, there is regional homogeneity in the response. By focusing on the 38 per cent response, which affirmed the threat perception, it is evident that this opinion is prevalent in all regions. Almost 17 per cent of Indians feel the military threat from China. A closer look at the response highlighted that the military threat perception was highest among the business and academic communities in India. On a regional basis, the North and the East reported a higher military threat perception than those in the West, Central and South. It is understandable because the North and the East share a common border with China. Frequently reported border skirmishes in the Indian media also play a significant role in influencing the threat perception in the respective regions. China’s close relation with Pakistan is one of the major reasons cited for the likely influence in the neighborhood. A few others also mentioned the political turmoil in Nepal, China’s close relationship with the military regime in Burma, increased FDI flows from China to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, etc. On a pointed question whether China is strategically encircling India to isolate it from the rest of the world, the government response on both sides of the borders strongly refuted this view but media and academicians in India strongly believed in the proposition.

It is imperative to mention that the survey ignored to seek a direct response on India as a military threat to China. However, it was observed that 16 per cent Chinese still viewed India as a military threat to China. It was an unexpected result. However, personal interviews revealed that the recently signed India-US Nuclear Agreement had greatly influenced this public response. One of the respondents held the view that if India becomes a tool of US imperialism, it may then become a military threat to China. India-US Relations & China India-US relation has always remained a central issue for charting an independent and non-aligned foreign policy. Past experience has been a blow hot and blow cold relationship between India and the US. Changes taking place across the globe also pushed these largest democracies closer, like India emerging as a major software power, burgeoning population of migrant Indians in the US, emergence of India as an off-shore ITES hub, etc. In the light of the India-US Nuclear Agreement and the associated controversies, almost 65 per cent respondents in India felt that India-US relations will have a strong influence on Sino-Indian relations. Likewise, 75 per cent Chinese feel that India-US relations will strongly influence Sino-Indian relations. The western media, wary of China’s growth in recent years, also widely accept that closer relations between India and the US is likely to adversely affect India’s relations with China. During the interviews, it was further clarified that closer India-US relations will adversely affect Sino-Indian relations. It is interesting to note that respondents on both sides felt that the closer India gets to the US, the farther it will move away from China. A close look at the Indian response revealed that this opinion was largely expressed by the media and academicians. Respondents from

China had a homogenous view on the issue in terms of occupation, region and age. India & China: Competitors or Partners For almost three decades, India and China did not feel the need to closely engage with each other for economic development. Both countries looked at the western world, especially the US and European Union, for solutions to their developmental problems. Largely, Indians look at China as a competitor in the global market (35%) and Chinese look at India as a partner for mutual benefit (53%). It is heartening to note that if the military threat perception is removed, the overall response from both sides indicate there is a huge potential for

A market in China

January-February 2011  India-China Chronicle |25|


INFOCUS | SURVEY | COVER STORY

economic cooperation. It needs to be mentioned that an individual’s views impact on the formulation of business strategy. For competitors, the policies and strategy framework is often defensive, which may include a variety of protectionist and safeguard measures. This may experience a complete turnaround, if policies are formulated for partners for mutual gains. Policy for partners is often based on complementing and synergising each others’ strengths and weaknesses.

India’s Perception on China 35%

24%

26% 15% Competitor Military Threat

Indian Perception by Occupation on the Strong Influence of India-US Relations on China

15%

Large Market Partner for mutual benefits

In the light of the India-US Nuclear Agreement and the associated controversies, almost 65 per cent respondents in India felt that India-US relations will have a strong influence on Sino-Indian relations. Likewise, 75 per cent Chinese feel that IndiaUS relations will strongly influence Sino-Indian relations

China’s Perception on India

18%

23%

16%

8%

19%

26% 22% Govt

Business

Media

Others

53% Academic Competitor Military Threat Large Market Partner for mutual benefits

Such views about each other are clearly reflected in their respective policies of engagement and also greatly influence public perception. It is interesting to note the divergence in public opinion on the basis of occupation and region. There is considerable homogeneity in India across all occupations who regard China as a competitor and important neighbour. It is also evident that a large section of the business community view China as a competitor. Government officials largely view China as an important neighbour. In the others category visà-vis other occupations, a major section believes that China is a military threat. The Indian media perceive China as a partner for mutual benefit, which is an interesting finding. On a regional basis, industrially developed regions, especially the West and South India, have pointed out China as a major competitor. The East is wary of frequent skirmishes on the common border between India and China. The Central region mainly due to its location, consider China as an important neighbour. |26| India-China Chronicle  January-February 2011

Sino-Indian Bilateral Relations Both sides have undertaken various measures to improve Sino-Indian relations, foremost being confidence building measures, regular meetings of the HOS and senior functionaries, etc. But from the public policy angle, the survey attempted to explore public sentiment on how relations can be improved between the two countries. Most Indians feel that the resolution of the border dispute must be given top priority by both countries to improve bilateral relations. On the other side, the Chinese feel that cultivating strong business interests must be taken up at top priority by both governments. Needless to mention both countries consider business interests and resolution of border dispute as priority areas to improve Sino-Indian relations. Undoubtedly, business and border issues cannot

be taken up in isolation, both complement each other and must be taken up on a priority basis by both sides. However, public opinion on both sides did not consider political and military alliance between the two countries as a priority issue for normalizing bilateral relations. Both sides acknowledged that people-to-people contact must also be taken up on priority basis. If one introspects, it is quite evident that the trajectory of engagement between the two countries followed a similar path in the past, except the intensity of engagement was low. Improved people-to-people contact can act as a catalyst to intensify the engagement between India and China. Thus, the public policy to strengthen ties must integrate people-to-people contact with past efforts which centered on business and border.  (Views expressed by the writer are his personal views)

January-February 2011  India-China Chronicle |27|


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