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The Hindu: Foreign Secretary on India-China Relations

December 3, 2010


This is the full text of the speech given by Indian Foreign Secretary, Nirupama Rao, at the Observer Research Foundation ahead of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to India.

1. This year saw India and China celebrating the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations. A couple of weeks from now Premier Wen Jiabao will be India and will participate in the closing ceremony of the Festival of China in India which will bring to a close the calendar of activities organized in both China and India to commemorate this occasion. Sixty years is a short period of time in the relations of two countries whose ties date back many millennia. Ours has always been a broader engagement that took place between our peoples. Throughout history, scholars and pilgrims, traders and travellers, who “mortgaged their lives for pilgrimage” in the words of the renowned Chinese Indologist Ji Xianlin, engaged in a traffic of ideas between the two countries. The Buddhism that travelled from India to China was successfully Sinicised and survived in China as it found a place in the heart and soul of the people. It is in the context of our historical and popular relationship that we must always view and evaluate our contemporary relationship. Indeed, this was the vision that inspired Rabindranath Tagore during his sojourns in China in the early decades of the 20th Century.

2. The six decades of the India-China relationship behind us have record that is chequered. We became arbiters of our national destinies from the date of India's independence and China's liberation in the late forties of the last century, inspiring many others in Asia and Africa to independence and the fruition of national goals to end colonialism and foreign domination. This was the time when India and China in a sense, rediscovered each other, understanding the potential of the synergy between two of the largest populated nations in the world on the global stage. The vision of our founding fathers is in many ways within our reach today as we regain our place in Asia and the world as leading global economies. The awareness and the “muffled footsteps” (to use Tagore's phrase) of historical contact between the two peoples of India and China created the basis for our well intentioned attempt in the fifties to build a new type of relationship based on Panchasheela or the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. It was an attempt which however faltered, telescoping into the troubled phase that enveloped our relationship in the sixties up until the mid seventies. The leadership in both our countries understood the untenability of any sustained estrangement between us. The last three decades have been marked by well-intentioned efforts of exploration towards establishing the framework of a stable, peaceful, productive, and multi-sectoral relationship between India and China. Contradictions are sought to be managed, and our differences have not prevented an expanding bilateral engagement and building on congruence. There are elements of cooperation and competition that form the warp and weft of our relationship. I propose to speak to you in some detail about the specifics of this engagement.

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