In September, Xiamen city of China not only hosted the BRICS Summit, but also witnessed an especially important meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi . This was the first after the Dong Lang (Doklam) stand-off. As Chinese Ambassador to India, I had the privilege of participating in the meeting. I felt that it sent a critical message of reconciliation and cooperation to the world in a timely manner.
The outcomes were beyond expectations. Both leaders agreed to start a new chapter. An important consensus has been reached to enhance mutual trust, focus on cooperation, and manage differences. Both leaders also agreed to conduct closer high-level exchanges, revitalise a series of dialogues and mechanisms, as well as promote youth and educational cooperation.
President Xi emphasised that we should be each other’s development opportunities rather than be threats to each other — “dragon and elephant should dance together”. PM Modi shared the same idea and believes that the political effects of “making one plus one eleven” can be achieved in China-India relations.
The meeting was originally scheduled for half an hour but lasted for an hour and 25 minutes. This shows that both sides are willing to devote enough time to conducting a comprehensive and in-depth exchange of views. President Xi said that Dangal ’s success has increased the affinity of the Chinese to the people of India, while PM Modi also highly praised the great success of Where Has the Time Gone , a film named after a speech by President Xi and which was co-produced by artists from the five BRICS member states.
In the one year since I assumed my new responsibility in India, I have witnessed ups and downs in China-India relations. Now I am in a better position to understand the common aspirations and potential of our two countries for cooperation and development. These understandings are based on the following aspects.
First, economic and trade cooperation are gaining momentum. Last year, the trade volume between China and India exceeded $70 billion. China has been for many years the largest trading partner of India. More than 500 Chinese companies have invested and started business in India with a total investment of over $5 billion. Many Indian enterprises of IT, pharmacy and consultancy have entered the Chinese market. For instance, there are more than a hundred Indian software engineers living in the Sino-India Software Industry Park in Linyi city, Shandong province.
Second, people-to-people exchanges are thriving. Mutual visits between our two countries have exceeded one million. Practising yoga, drinking Darjeeling black tea, and watching Bollywood movies have become fashionable among the Chinese youth. Yunnan Minzu University has established the India-China Yoga College. We are also working to hold the Annual Indian Tourism Conference in Yunnan province.
Third, local exchanges are booming. China and India have established 14 pairs of sister cities and provinces. PM Modi made frequent visits to Guangdong province when he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat. I also visited many Indian States and was encouraged by their enthusiasm for cooperation with China. I coordinated the attendance of Assam representatives at the Hangzhou International Tea Expo, and helped the Kerala government introduce rubber dam from China.
Fourth, our two countries have maintained close high-level communications. Home town diplomacy initiated by President Xi and PM Modi has become a much-told story. Both leaders have met more than a dozen times on bilateral and multilateral occasions.
Now, China’s economy is stable and our reform has entered a crucial stage. India is also accelerating its reform. Make in India, Digital India, Startup India and other initiatives have yielded outcomes. Significant measures like the GST Act have been implemented. Faced with similar development objectives and common challenges such as “anti-globalisation” and trade protectionism, China and India should work together.
I believe that China and India should work towards the same direction and jointly implement the Xiamen consensus reached by our leaders. We should work towards a sound and healthy bilateral relationship by focussing on cooperation, narrowing and resolving differences. Just like Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said, both sides should make sure that China-India relations do not derail, confront, or go out of control, and make the Himalayan region a new highland for Asia’s development.
Both sides should set long-term goals for the development of our bilateral relations. We can consider negotiating the Treaty of Good-Neighbourliness and Friendly Cooperation between China and India, restarting the negotiations of China-India Free Trade Agreement, striving for early harvests on boundary issues, and actively exploring the strategic synergy between China’s Belt and Road Initiative and India’s ‘Act East Policy’.
Both sides should appropriately manage differences, get under control the problems left over by history such as issues related to boundary and the Dalai Lama, while finding solutions to new problems.
Luo Zhaohui is Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to India