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ACROSS THE HIMALAYAN GAP

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Indian Leaders' Speeces in Chinese University

Prime Minister Narasimha Rao at Beijing University

 SEPTEMBER 9, 1993

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It is great honour to be invited to speak at Beijing University, the foremost seat of education in the People’s Republic of China. It is always a privilege to be amongst the faculty and students of an institution of learning with few parallels in the world. India’s scriptures from times immemorial have perceived educational institutions as the epitome of the cultural and civilisational achievements of any society. As I commence my remarks, the words of the French philosopher Diderot about you, the Chinese people, come to my mind. He said and I quote:

“These Asiatics are endowed with great antiquity, art, intellect, wisdom, policy and in their taste for philosophy and in their judgement they dispute the merit in these matters with the most enlightened peoples of Europe.”

Others have described your society and your polity as a continuum which has existed for over 4,000 years as an unparalleled achievement in human history.

My people and my civilisation have, also been so described by philosophers and historians. That out of the four or five thousand years of our continuity as civilisations, for nearly 2,000 years we have interacted with each other, provides the durable foundation for Sino-Indian relations.

Our remote cultural ties are best illustrated by the word “chinambar” (Chinese cloth) which occurs in Indian literature for many centuries. This means an old tradition of trade and commerce between the two countries. In addition to Faxian and Xuanzang Chinese marine travellers to India’s Malabar Coast from olden times have left behind their impressions. So, it is with a deep sense of our historical and cultural closeness that I come to this gathering.

Speaking in a university with this history, one cannot but be aware of the larger forces that shape our lives. It is universities like “Beida” in China and Santiniketan in India which first contributed to the emancipation of thinking that was a necessary pre-condition to Asia’s emergence half a century ago from the shadows of colonialism. This phenomenon, achieved through different means in India and China, resulted in similar ends. Both countries embarked upon an experiment without precedent in history, the rapid and fundamental transformation of large societies with strong indigenous roots. Both countries chose not to blindly imitate the path that had been travelled, much more slowly, by Europe during her mercantile transformation and industrial revolution. Our countries choose instead to modernise their economies and transform their societies in accordance with the ethos of our own peoples.

China chose one form of socialism, India chose another. Despite criticism by hindsight that abounds everywhere today, it is undeniable pioneering work of the fifties and early sixties in both countries laid the foundations for the rapid advances that we have recently been making. China has embarked upon a process of reform which has shown outstanding results over the last decade. India has more recently embarked upon economic reforms which have already begun showing results.

Through both China and India chose varied options, different socio-economic methods in their nation-building efforts, the objective was similar: the economic development of our societies and the well-being of our peoples, From having a predominantly agriculture based economy, India today ranks among the important industrialised countries endowed with technological skills, trained manpower resources and a progressively modern economy. Our economy has been diversified and at the same time integrated in a way where different sectors of economic activity are being evolved in a balanced manner taking into account the factors of natural resources, demographic equilibrium and the norms of productivity and consumers’ satisfaction.

For the first time in recent times people in India and in China are producing enough food to feed themselves. Grain’ important has become a sophisticated option in which secondary economic considerations are relevant. The spectre of mass starvation only too familiar to our forefathers for more than 100 years during the colonial and immediate post-colonial period, no longer haunts our peoples. This is no small achievement; it has been done by the creative application of modern science by millions of peasants assisted by teams of dedicated scientists and field workers in our countries. In a sense it is the continuance in the technological epoch of our separate traditions of farming developed over the centuries by our two civilisations in their specific, separate ways in indigenously developed methods of wider use of irrigation and also in the most economic utilization of natural fertilizers This has enabled us today to pause for a moment and plan a more rewarding and richer pattern of life for our people. It is our shared aim to achieve in the 21st century the ambitions of great men and women who gave so much for their people, many millennia ago.

Over the last two years especially, we have embarked on a restructuring of our economy on the basis of de-regulation, liberalisation and modern management and marketing techniques. We have tried to build on the foundations laid during previous decades of economic development. The objective of the new reforms is to plan the economic future of India in a manner where the pressures of inflation and recession are resisted and where fiscal discipline and emphasis on increased productivity become practical norms. I must also point out that the processes of economic modernisation and reforms are being fashioned, taking into account all aspect of human existence and all ingredients which constitute the quality of life; the ingredients of literacy, health, shelter, required minimum incomes and environmental safety. That is what we call reform with a human face. And this is no idle expression.

Over and above all, our aim is to achieve an equilibrium between the encouragement of unfettered human endeavour on the one hand and the imperatives of distributive justice in a developing society on the other.

The choices made in the process are no doubt bold and impressive. But what is even more remarkable is the capacity that these two great nations with a heavy weight of history have shown to learn from their experiences and to adjust their thinking and policies to deal with reality. What gives me confidence for the future is this ability to learn from experience that both India and China have displayed since they became masters of their own destinies.

The world today stands at a new watershed. We all see the symptoms of the far-fetching transformations that the world is undergoing. The end of the cold war, the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the emergence of new centres of power and structural adjustment of the world economy are all results of fundamental shifts in ways of thinking, technology and in the balance of socio-economic forces at national and regional levels. I see these changes as leading inexorably to a world where prosperity, and in course of time power, are more equally shared among the nations. The question that faces our two peoples is: How shall we deal with this rapid process of change? At this crucial juncture in the changing international situation, the basic issues of peace, security and development are being approached with new terms of reference resulting from the pressures and changed attitudes that affect the whole world. We should deal with these issues with a vision of the universality of human endeavour, tempered by respect for socio-cultural diversities between different societies and civilisational entities, with a sense of justice and fair play. This needs great tolerance and the avoidance of confrontation and the willingness to cooperate. This is by no means an easy exercise. But the test of any ancient civilisation consists in doing precisely this, by innovating appropriate methods of survival and progress, without forsaking basic values which makes the real difference between life in all its splendour on the one hand, and mere physical existence on the other.

The need for a universal approach cannot be over-emphasised. No major problem facing humankind today-particularly today when the world, roughly speaking, is unipolar politically and multi-polar economically-can be resolved on a regional or subregional basis, except where it is conceived of as an integral part of a universal endeavour. Peace, Disarmament, Environment, Sustainable Development- each one of these requires a global approach and the context of a global order. I believe that the guiding principle for the creation of the new international political and economic order should be economic security and political justice for each country, for each society. For this purpose, urgent endeavours are required for achieving general and complete disarmament in a non-discriminatory manner. Immediate and cooperative action should be taken by the international community to preserve the ecological balance in environment, to nurture and sustain human rights, not on the basis of intrusive and unilateral stipulations or external pressures, but on the basis of values shared by all societies and also respecting the diverse social and cultural traditions which constitute the content and corpus of human rights in different societies. These efforts for dealing with significant issues have to be undertaken with the awareness that we lie in a world of economic, social and ecological inter-dependence. No individual country or group of nations can address this issue single-handed. Our approach, of necessity, has to be based on a harmonising of varying perspectives, varied needs and diverse approaches.

Our two countries are themselves emerging from certain aberrations in their relations into an era of normalcy and enhanced mutual understanding. We have taken several ,steps together in the last five years to improve communication and understanding between our governments, leaders and peoples.

Our trade has been growing, although there is much more that we can do in this area. We have resumed border trade last year, something that benefits the common man in both countries. These are, however, only small beginnings. I am confident that we have still to tap the full potential of the possibilities that exist for our two large economies to interact in the economic sphere. We could consider several modalities to realise this immense potential. Such cooperation in the economic sphere would not only lend further strength to our bilateral relations but would also contribute to economic cooperation in overall terms in Asia and in the rest of the world.

We have re-established Consulates in Bombay and Shanghai, and the numbers of our nationals visiting each other’s countries have grown manifold. Equally significant is the fact that we have maintained the momentum of high level political dialogue between the leaders of our two countries. Your Premier was good enough to visit India in December 1991 and our President came to China in 1992. Even on issues that once divided us, we are agreed on the need for and the manner of, dealing with these questions. I am confident that if we both continue this process, our common border will continue to be a border of tranquillity.

Our bilateral relations are on the way towards achieving the stability, durability and good neighbourliness that both our peoples desire. We, however, do not live in a vacuum, no matter how large the space that we occupy. India and China are both agents of change and are also subject to the changes that are sweeping the world. Now that we have found ways of dealing with our bilateral issues, perhaps the time has come for us to evaluate the new world order that is emerging and to evolve a vision and strategy for the benefit of peoples throughout the vast continent of Asia. A general agreement on India-China strategy and approach on a series of issues could be conductive to an Asia resurgence.

What should this Asian resurgence consist of? It must include a vision of rising above our historical memories and prejudices and narrower local interests to achieve the greatest good of the largest number. We are both dedicated to doing so within our societies. We have already shown the ability to conceptualise the principles that should guide international relations when we, together, evolved the Five Principles of Peaceful co-existence, or Panchsheel as they are known in India. These principles remain as valid today as they were when they were drafted.

The question is whether these principles can be realised, and whether an Asian resurgence can be achieved, in the context of the larger international community to which we belong. An introspective response to this question can be no better than what Jawaharlal nehru stated at the Asian Relations Conference on the 23rd March, 1947. He said:

“It was here (in Asia) that civilisation began and man started on his unending adventures of life. Here, the mind of man searched unceasingly for truth, and the spirit of man shone like a beacon which lighted up the whole world. It is this dynamic Asia from which great streams of culture flowed in all directions that I am talking about. The vibrance and creativity of the Asian peoples can surely realise the principle and objective which I mentioned”.

Jawaharlala Nehru had a vision of Asia. He had also a vision of India and China in Asia and the world. This was not mere romanticism. His historically sensitive mind always went back to those early days when, in the first millennium of the modem era, our two civilisations, our two ways of thought, our different methods of articulating that thought came together in blinding flash of creative exuberance. The great Buddhist pilgrims and travellers who traversed the Himalayan passes did not achieve a mere feat of physical endurance of dedication to a great idea. They were among the great scholars in history who achieved an astonishing feat of cross-cultural and inter-linguistic communication. In four or five generations the great works of Buddhist philosophy, mythology and literature were translated from Pali and Sanskrit to the Chinese language. There are only two or three similar occurrences in the history of the human mind, the Greek-Arab encounter in Europe which led to the renaissance. I thought it necessary to mention this in moment of recapitulation of our long cultural dialogue. We have something to inspire us when we walk forward in our quest for a new understanding.

These memories are useful: All memories are useful if they are not permitted to rationlise present inaction. We, in our generation, know that we cannot afford to relax until the more than two billion peoples of our two countries, each man, woman, and child, has the opportunity to look forward to a decent life with dignity and freedom, not necessarily self-limiting luxuries. The resurgence of the Asian people after centuries of passivity is now beginning. We have learnt painfully to benefit from our mistakes to choose between difficult options in development, in security, and in the rights of the individual. The Asian resurgence which Nehru so fondly believed in, has still to come but, today, the objective conditions for such a resurgence are rapidly coming into being. In the last decade, Asia has shown that it can achieve socioeconomic transformation rapidly, finding its own methods, without turning its back en the rest of the world. The question really is not whether Asia is ready for a resurgence. Asian resurgence is in fact already taking place. The need now is that Asian resurgence should expand into a vision of general happiness of the whole of humankind. In this vision there would be no place for hegemony or exploitation, whether inside or outside the Continent.

I do not under-estimate the difficulties that face us in such a task. Fresh challenges are appearing. Can our fragile global ecological system stand the strains of development and subsistence? What will be the pattern of growth required for sustainable development? When disastrous technologies have all but destroyed the Earth’s ecological balance, how do we reverse the trend set by affluent countries? And if in the process, they swing to the other extreme and seek to choke off even the legitimate developmental needs

of the developing countries, how can the latter resist the new suppressive process? How do we overcome the one-sided restrictions and limitations, sought to be imposed on our technologies and capacity for material and human resource development? These are questions that require the collective wisdom of humankind if satisfactory responses are to be found.

Twenty-two years have passed since the People’s Republic of China assumed her rightful place in the United Nations. For twenty-two years before that India was proud to be among the forefront of Nations that urged early acceptance of this just and correct principle. Today, as we approach the half century marks of the world body, our two countries, the largest in the world must do everything possible to ensure that this institution works towards the full realisation of the immense human potential inherent in man-a potential that transcends political and economic arrangements, necessary as they are, but addresses also the far larger concerns of want and hunger, ignorance and disease, that still afflict so much of humankind. These preoccupations pauperise the worth of life. So, only a true liberation from these can allow our world to be truly a part of the free and liberated spirit of the century.

India and China have already made a beginning in cooperating in international fora on questions that relate to global environment. The agreement that we have signed during my visit provides that this cooperation, both bilaterally and internationally, will be intensified.

There are other threats to the emergence of a cooperative world order. They come from attempts to limit the ability of large numbers of humankind to harness modern technology and science to their own economic betterment. Discriminatory restrictive technology regimes, which seek to cloak perhaps commercial self-interest fall in this category We, India and China, must work together with what we have for the benefit of our peoples.

Equally important is the need for real progress in nuclear disarmament. If there was any justification for the vast nuclear arsenals that certain powers maintain, that has long since ceased with the end of the Cold War. These inhuman weapons must be declared illegal: the world must embark upon a time-bound and firm programme for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons whether declared or clandestine. India has made proposals for a new international consensus on nuclear disarmament, and has listed the steps through which this can be achieved without affecting the genuine security interests of most countries.

Why is this an important area of human endeavour? Unless we secure peace, countries will continue to waste precious resources, talent and effort which could better be utilised to promote national well-being. India has long ago made a clear choice. I do not think that there is another instance where with security needs such as India’s and remaining outside all alliance systems, any country spends as little as India does on defence.

But the greatest hurdle against the establishment of a cooperative world order is the assumption that there is only one way of running an economy. Both India and China are too large as economies, and too diverse in other respects, to be fitted into the straitjacket of economic models that might have worked for smaller, homogeneous entities. You are seeking what you call a socialist market economy, developed with Chinese characteristics, which takes into account your own genius and conditions. The remarkable progress that you have achieved in this experiment is evident to the world. We too are seeking to free our economy while utilising the creative genius and energy of our people. Our results so far have been heartening. The prospect of our success seems to arouse unwarranted apprehensions. New advocacies to prevent the free exchange of ideas are being presented to developing countries. Our answer, in India, as a democracy, is that we should permit the circulation of ideas, out of which the country chooses and adopts what it think it needs. We are also sanguine about the wisdom of our people who will see through what is not in their interest no matter how attractively packaged.

It is in this circulation and exchange of ideas that universities have a major role and a historical responsibility. The ties between India and China were formed over a thousand years ago by the exchange of ideas, at a time when it was much more difficult to establish contact. One is humbled when one thinks of the dedication of Faxian who spent fourteen years travelling in order to bring back his precious load of books to China. Compared to him we are in a fortunate position, yet we do not accomplish even a fraction of what he did.

There is another tremendous benefit which these great monks gave us. Their travel chronicles provide one of the few available pictures of a situation in India at that distant time. So, when we meet here today in these hallowed precincts, we are only trying to recapture the first carefree rapture of that earlier encounter. In our own time, Rabindranath Tagore realized the significance of the university in international understanding. This was why he founded the Cheena-Bhavana, the house of Chinese culture, in his own university in Santintketan, Visva-Bharati. One of its earlier students, Vasudev Gokhale, has written of how at this university, for “the first time after a lapse of a few centuries, a handful of Indians, sitting in an academic institution, attempted once more to break through the tough linguistic barriers that had estranged friendly neighbours.”

Friends. We are at the threshold of a new century. There is an old saying that he who predicts the future is rash, even if he tells the truth. Despite this, I venture to say that Asia could come into its full stature and attain its full destiny in the coming century if India and China work together to make it so. Kautilya once said that the “welfare of a state depends on an active foreign policy.” He was also clear that “strength is power and happiness is the objective.” While strength is power and happiness is the objective, this purposiveness has to be tempered by a capacity for detachment and an inner willingness to believe in selfless erdeavour. The great Chinese philosopher Laozi expressed this admirably when he said and I quote:

“All tings in nature work silently; they come into being possessing nothing. They fulfil their functions and make no claim on things, all creatures alike do their work and then we see them subside. When they reach full bloom, each returns to its origin, returning to origins means rest, means fulfilment of destiny. This reversion is an eternal law and to know this law is wisdom.”

If we are able to bear these maxims in mind in the conduct of our relations, we will be able to share a positive future of harmony and amity built of abiding foundation.

I once again thank the authorities of the University for giving me this opportunity of meeting you here. As the passenger to the next century approaching their destination, I wish you, to the fullest extent, the joy of adventure, the excitement of quest and the satisfaction of success, i.e., success in steering humankind in a safer and happier state, to the twenty first century.

 

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© 1998 Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi

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Published in 1998 by 

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