China and India have long historical and cultural tradition, and enjoy great development potential. To better cope with the ever changing international situation, a new type of neighbourly relationship is required. This can not only make the 21st century an “Asian Century”, but also further push globalization and contribute to building a community with a shared future for mankind. One of the keys to building the new bilateral relationship lies in enhancing people-to-people exchange between China and India, which can properly manage differences, expand common interests, boost cultural resonance, promote bilateral political and economic development and ensure healthy, steady and sound Sino-India relations.
Since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), the concept of a community of shared future for mankind has gradually developed into a theoretical system with rich connotation and great significance, making it the essence of contemporary China’s diplomacy and Xi Jinping’s thought on diplomacy, also the most distinctive feature of major country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics. The 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) has set people-to-people exchange, strategic trust, and economic and trade cooperation as “Three Pillars” of China’s diplomacy in the New Era. By perfecting people-to-people exchange mechanism, innovating models of people-to-people exchange, advancing exchange and mutual learning of cultures, China’s wisdom, ideas and initiative can be better applied to building a community with a shared future for mankind.
The process of building a community of shared future for mankind is identical to the development path of China’s diplomacy, that is, great powers are the key, neighbors are the first priority, developing countries are the foundation and multilateral is the important stage. India is our only neighbour with four main factors – a great power neighbor, a developing country and a supporter of multilateralism. It occupies a pivotal position in South Asia, profoundly affects the foreign policy of South Asian countries, has extensive influence in the game of playing the role great powers, is also the key point and difficulty for the “The Belt and Road initiatives” related construction activities in South Asia.
But for a variety of reasons, China and India have become “strange neighbors”. The lack of enough understanding and cognition to each other took away strategic trust between China and India. India is skeptical and uncooperative with China’s “Belt and Road initiatives” and “Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor”. Border disputes, Indian Ocean strategic interests and the third party factors have long plagued bilateral ties, leading to lack of mutual understanding between China and India, as well as unsatisfactory development of economic and trade cooperation. Doklam issue and the new Indo-Pacific strategy led by America have intensified complexity and instability of China-India relationship. The crucial solution is to maintain a stable bilateral relationship, expand cooperation in development areas, and enhance the foundation of mutual trust.
The theory of a community of shared future for mankind provides strong support to China-India people-to-people exchange studies, instructs the practice of China-India people-to-people exchange, which can lift Sino-India relations out of the swamp. The practice of China-India people-to-people exchange can offer more wisdom, solutions and approaches for the realization of a community of shared future for mankind.
At the official level, head-of-state diplomacy stands out as a prominent feature in China-India people-to-people exchange. Though in a strict sense, head-of-state diplomacy should be included in the domain of formal diplomacy, it plays a leading role in China-India people-to-people exchange. Since PM Modi took office, fourteen conferences of Heads of State took place within a short period of four years. Both Heads of State emphasized the importance of people-to-people exchange between China and India, from the informal meeting in Wuhan where consensus was reached on setting up senior-level people-to-people exchange mechanism, to the implementation of the consensus in SCO Qingdao Summit by pushing forward the building of people-to-people exchange mechanism, and holding people-to-people exchange mechanism conferences chaired by foreign ministers of China and India. The top-level design of people-to-people communication becomes gradually improved with an explicit goal and a clear direction led by head-of-state diplomacy. Thanks to the vision and hard work of senior leadership, China-India people-to-people interaction stepped out of the bottom to the new track. It is head-of-state diplomacy that charts the direction of China-India people-to-people exchange.
In the civil society, media, as an important domain of China-India people-to-people exchange, is central to mutual cognition. As an essential form of people-to-people exchange, media has become one of the major factors affecting Sino-India relation, and attracted more and more attention from the academia. In particular the mainstream media shapes mutual understanding, hence Sino-India relation. We can neither overstate, nor understate the effects of media. What is noteworthy is special comb news coverage in China and news coverage of China-India relations by the India’s media.
Practice counts the most in people-to-people interaction, and numerous cases abound. Yunnan sets a clear example. Yunnan, as a sub-national actor takes an active part in China-India people-to-people exchange, seizes its geographical advantage to create highlights in people-to-people exchange between China and India, such as setting up K2K mechanism, organizing Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Cooperation Forum, pushing the construction of Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor, holding China-South Asia Expo, building sister cities of Kunming and Calcutta, conducting all-dimensional educational cooperation, founding the first Indian Yoga College at Yunnan Minzu University, promoting mutual learning between Taichi and Yoga, and launching youth exchange programs, which offers much valuable experience in building a multi-layered, wide-dimensional China-India people-to-people exchange mechanism.
By analyzing Sino-India people-to-people exchange from official, civil and local channels, historical accumulation, actual foundation, practical experience, and successful cases can find in China-India people-to-people exchange new paths led by head-of-state diplomacy. Based on multilateral organizations like BRICS, SCO, bilateral people-to-people exchange can be designed. People-to-people communication can go deeper when the connotation and extension of China-India people-to-people exchange gets extended, novel forms and areas get explored, and the brand of China-India people-to-people exchange gets established. By expanding personnel flow, strengthening idea and cultural communication, more social parties and civil players can be encouraged to participate, and push the people-to-people exchange from the bottom up. By playing the leading role of culture and education, mutual learning between Taichi and Yoga, between Chinese traditional medicine and Indian traditional medicine can be developed, collaboration between academic agencies and think-tanks can be increased, studies on some country can be enhanced, important fields like local cooperation, youth, media, showbiz industry, tourism, and museum can be underlined. By installing mechanism as a guarantee, reinforcing strategic mutual trust, political, economic and trade relation between China and India can be augmented.
The world is now facing great complexity. China, which is facing a strategic opportunity, needs to win trust and cooperation from the international community, especially from India– a key country with influence and a significant neighbour. The community of shared future between China and India cannot be forged in a rush. It has to be achieved with synergy of political trust, economic and trade cooperation, and people-to-people exchange. In particular, when political trust is absent, economic and trade cooperation stumbles. More emphasis should be given to people-to-people exchange so as to press ahead with the building of a community of shared future between China and India.
*** The author is Director at Center for China-India People-to-People Exchange Studies at Yunnan Minzu University ***