People-to-People Diplomacy Between China and India

India, located in the Southern Asian subcontinent, is both a rising power and a developing country. India is an important neighboring country of China and is playing a more and more important role in the stage of multilateral affairs. In the overall diplomatic layout of China, India occupies an extremely important status. The establishment of a steady and friendly bilateral relationship between China. India is of great significance for maintaining regional peace and stability as well as creating a favorable neighboring environment for China. In September 2014, Chinese President Xi Jinping paid his first state visit to India and the visit turned out to be a great success, thus ushering in a new era of Sino-Indian relations development. With the broadening and deepening of inter-governmental contact between the two countries, Sino-Indian people-to-people diplomacy is also prospering and has opened up new opportunities for rapid development.
I . The Status Quo of People-to-People Diplomacy between China and India
(1) Close trade relations: in 2013, bilateral trade in goods between China and India amounted to 65.47 billion USD and the value of engineering contracts booked in the year amounted to 2.269 billion USD. At the same year, the non-financial direct investment of China in India amounted to 216 million USD. According to the Ministry of Commerce of the People¡¯s Republic of China, from January to November 2014, bilateral trade in goods between China and India has soared to 64.6 billion USD, with China becoming the largest trade partner and the largest source of imports of India. Moreover, in his visit to India, Chinese President Xi Jinping signed an agreement with Indian Premier Narendra Modi on building two comprehensive Chinese Industrial Parks in the states of Gujarat and Maharashtra respectively. The initial total investment of the two Parks is estimated to reach 5 billion USD. The two central governments also promised to expand bilateral trade in goods in the next five years to 150 billion USD. The Modi administration, with its tenure starting in 2014, set economic development as its first priority. Therefore, there will be huge demand in India in terms of infrastructure construction and manufacturing industry development. While China boasts abundant capital and rich experience in both areas, China will become an important partner for India in economic development. During President Xi Jinping¡¯s visit to India, China and India signed a five-year trade and economic cooperation agreement, aiming to improve the trade balance between the two countries. In addition, China promised to invest 20 billion USD to India in the next five years. Economic and trade cooperation between the two countries is predicted to witness rapid development in the future.
(2) Prosperous cultural exchange: representing two ancient civilizations, cultural exchange between China and India boasts a long history and far-reaching impacts. History has told us that cultural exchange has been the stabilizer and ballast stone of Sino-Indian bilateral relations. In recent years, with Chinese art performance groups visiting India and making splashes in the Indian society, the Indian people have the chance to experience the great charm of traditional Chinese art and culture. In 2013, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visited India and the two countries signed Memorandum on Project of Translating and Publishing of Classical and Contemporary Works of China and India. Articles of the Memorandum are being carried out, and the translating of some classical works of both countries like the Bhagavad Gita and Tao Te Ching has almost been finished-press cooperation between both countries is in the ascendant. June 30, 2014 witnessed the release ceremony of Encyclopedia of India-China Cultural Contacts, which is a great event in the process of cultural exchange between India and China. Moreover, Chinese learning and teaching in India also achieved considerable progress. In May 2014, the Vellore Institute of Technology in the State of Tamil Nadu hosted the first ¡°Chinese Bridge¡± Chinese contest in India themed ¡°My Chinese Dream¡±. With more and more Chinese training institutes being established all over the country, learning Chinese has become a new trend in India society.
(3) Exchange between academic institutes and think tanks has become one of the new focal points of Sino-Indian exchanges. Currently, Indian-related studies have become one of the major research fields in the circle of Chinese social sciences. Many a renowned universities in China have established or are establishing Indian research institutes, and most think tanks focusing on international affairs have made Indian research one of its research emphases. Numbers of Indian-related seminars held by Chinese academic circles or jointly organized by Chinese and Indian academic circles are on the rise. Exchange and interaction among academic institutions of China and India are gradually becoming institutionalized and regularized. The existing dialogue and exchange mechanism among academic institutions of China and India are turning out to be a dual channel platform for the political, academic and economic circles of both countries to exchange and share information.
II. Major Problems with People-to-People Diplomacy between China and India
(1) The social influence is still limited. The understanding of Indian people about China is still fuzzy. The recognition of ordinary Indian people on China is still limited on simple icons such as inexpensive Chinese products, Chinese kungfu movies, traditional Chinese food, and their understanding on China¡¯s contemporary political and economic situation, the overall situation of Chinese society, the historical heritage and development of Chinese culture, China¡¯s foreign policy of peaceful development is inadequate. They are prone to look at China with an isolated and static view. Due to historical or other reasons, prejudice or misunderstanding about China even prevail among them.
(2) Channels for exchange are still inadequate. There are numerous non-governmental organizations in India. They boast huge influence and their activities involve in various aspects of Indian society. Many of them are devoted to people-to-people exchange between China and India. However, on the Chinese part, people-to-people diplomacy can only depends on several semi?-official institutions (such as the Chinese People¡¯s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries), universities and some specialized academic institutions, council for promotion of international trade and chamber of commerce at all levels. It¡¯s fairly difficult to find a Chinese non-governmental organization specialized in exchange with India, let alone to find a Chinese non-governmental organization capable of organizing programs or activities with its Indian counterparts.
(3) The scale of people-to-people exchange between China and India is still limited. Currently, people-to-people exchange between China and India is unbalanced, small in scale and slow in development pace. In 2012, the scale of Indian people visiting China is about 610,000 person times, while people visiting India from China mainland are less than 170,000 person times. In 2013, there are about 100 million person times of people going abroad from Chinese mainland, while only 150,000 person times of them chose India as their destination. Currently, there are only about 1,000 Chinese students studying in India, while the number of Indian students studying in China has reached nearly 10,000. Due to the long-existing problems with visa application for Chinese citizens going to India, the issue of imbalanced personnel exchange still remains to be resolved.
III. People-to-People Diplomacy between China and India Are Facing New Development Opportunities
The important role of people-to-people diplomacy lies in its well-entrenched and great influence on people¡¯s mind, thus offering solid foundation for the long-term exchange between countries and governments. Although there are some problems and worries in the development process of people-to-people diplomacy between China and India, they cannot hinder the rapid development of people-to-people diplomacy between China and India and the greater role it will play in the future. We are now facing the great opportunity of rapid development for people-to-people diplomacy between China and India for the following reasons.
(1) The governments of both China and India attach great importance to people-to-people diplomacy. The governments of China and India has reached consensus on promoting people-to-people exchange between the two countries. China and India hosted the ¡°Year of India¡± and ¡°Year of China¡± respectively in 2010 and named 2011, 2012, 2014 the Year of China-India Exchange, India-China Year of Friendship Cooperation, Year of China-India Friendly Exchange respectively. Beijing and Delhi, Chengdu and Bangalore, Kunming and Calcutta, Shanghai and Mumbai, Guangzhou and Ahamadabud established sister-city ties. Guangdong Province and the State of Gujarat also set up sister ties. In the meetings of leaders of the two countries, they all set promoting all-round exchange among two peoples as one of their major topics. In President Xi Jinping¡¯s visit to India in 2014, the two countries issued a joint statement, promising to launch the ¡°India-China Program of Cultural Exchange¡±. According to the Program, China and India will name 2015 the Year of India Tourism and Year of China Tourism respectively and will dispatch a 200-member youth delegation to the other country each year in the next five years so as to promote people-to-people exchange and cooperation between the two countries. At the beginning of his tenure, Indian Premier Narendra Modi also declared to encourage people-to-people contacts and exchange between China and India.
(2) The willingness to exchange with each other among ordinary people is strong and enthusiastic. With the expanding and deepening of trade and economic cooperation between the two countries, ordinary people of both countries get more and more opportunities to get in touch with each other. People from both countries, especially the younger generation, have a strong interest in the history, culture, politics and economy of each other and they hope to get a more shortcut and direct channel for obtaining information from the other party. On the one hand, Indian movies, music, garments and yoga become popular in China; on the other hand, Indian people are obsessed with Chinese kongfu, Chinese food and Chinese products. More and more Chinese and Indian people chose India or China as their tourist destination, hoping to get a better and real first-hand understanding on each other. In addition, more and more students from both countries decide to go to the other country for carrying out studies or research.
IV. Suggestions for Strengthening People-to-People Diplomacy between China and India
(1) Bring into full play the guiding and supporting role of governments and eliminate the obstacles hindering the development of people-to-people diplomacy. On the one hand, people-to-people diplomacy is the necessary complement for official diplomacy; on the other hand, people-to-people diplomacy calls for the support from the government. The strengthening of people-to-people diplomacy between India and China demands that the Chinese government allocates resources efficiently and reasonably in the following aspects. One is to set up more organizations devoted in exchange and communication, especially the exchange with India, thus offering more platforms for carrying out people-to-people diplomacy. The second is to strengthen communication and coordination with Indian government, so as to resolve visa related issues for visiting India from China. The Chinese government should promote Indian government in simplifying visa procedures, especially the procedures for medium and long-term visa for academic purposes, and promote the Indian government in issuing multiple entry visas for Chinese scholars (Currently the Foreign Ministry of China has already issued multiple entry visas for some Indian scholars).
(2) Exchange for academic and educational purposes should be strengthened. Scholars are the elites of a society. This point of view was widely recognized in the Indian society. The role of academic exchange in people-to-people diplomacy should be attached importance and visits, seminars and joint research of and conducted by scholars and academic institutions should be encouraged and sponsored. In addition, from a medium or long-term perspective, the exchanging of students is one of the best and most effective means of people-to-people diplomacy. Each Indian student studying in China has the potential of becoming a folk diplomat. They can bring information to China from India; meanwhile reflect the real situation of China to India. China should strengthen the support for Indian students to study in China, especially in terms of financial support, and offer a good learning and living environment for Indian students.
(3) Special attention should be given to exchange between the media. The development of media in India got ahead of the general development level of the whole society and media were granted huge freedom and space. For one thing, media can put pressure on the government and influence the policy making of the government. For the other thing, media can guide public opinion and win support from ordinary people. In recent years, for the purpose of attracting attention, Indian media made lots of negative reports on China-some of the reports are even deliberately distorted or defaced. Chinese media are also prone to focus more on some polarized expressions or opinions from the Indian part. Currently, there are over 20 Chinese correspondents located in India, while there are only 4 Indian journalists located in China in the long run. For this reason, Chinese media should be more active in communicating with their Indian counterparts and offer them more real stories and information about China, so as to enhance mutual understanding between the two peoples, and create a good atmosphere of public opinion supporting the steady and good relations between the two countries.
(4) A series of good means of interaction and communication should be employed. People-to-people diplomacy is mainly targeted at ordinary people and the form of such exchange is extremely important-the means of people-to-people diplomacy should be amiable, reliable and go deep into the hearts of the people. People enjoying popularity in both China and India, such as movie stars, sports stars, social celebrities, or renowned scholars can be invited to serve as the goodwill ambassadors for people-to-people diplomacy. With the appeal and influence of the goodwill ambassadors, understanding and trust between the two peoples are expected to be enhanced.
Liu Jiawei, Assistant Director of Center for South Asia-West China Cooperation and Development Studies, Sichuan University. This article was originally published by the Chinese Association for International Understanding in 2015. It is republished with permission.