India and China are sitting down to discuss their future, conscious that it rides on the ability to manage contradictions, which is no small development, former foreign secretary S Jaishankar said here.
The former top diplomat, who served as Ambassador to China and the United States, was addressing a lecture organised by the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS), a think tank at the National University of Singapore, yesterday.
Touching upon Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Wuhan, the capital of central China’s Hubei province, he said that world history has shown the dangers of rising powers remaining self-absorbed.
“Growing capabilities and influence actually require greater engagement with the world, not less,” Jaishankar said.
“As Asia rises, there are lessons that could be drawn from the experiences of others, especially Europe. It would appear that this realisation is as strong in Beijing as it is in New Delhi,” said the former envoy, a distinguished visiting research fellow at the ISAS.
“India-China relations have always had a global context and will always have one. In an uncertain world, the Wuhan meeting was an important step in the direction of greater stability,” he said.
If its bilateral implications are concerned, the focus seems to have been on measures to strengthen stability and manage differences, Jaishankar said, adding that some extra effort seemed to have gone into finding common ground, whether on trade or on Afghanistan.
These are actually the only two nations with over a billion in population each. They are also among the world’s major economies now. Their experiences in development and governance are worth exchanging, he said.
The intent of the Wuhan Summit was actually laid out last June when the two leaders met in Astana. At that time, they declared that the relationship between India and China must be a factor of stability in an uncertain world, the former diplomat said. “They also desired that differences between India and China should not become disputes.”
However, this was followed shortly thereafter by the face-off at Dokalam.
Significantly, he said, its conclusion saw the two countries reiterate these very approaches at the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) Summit at Xiamen in September 2017.
“Since then, there have been intensive exchanges at senior policy levels between them, including the foreign ministers and the national security advisers,” Jaishankar noted.
The engagement between India and China has to be on the basis of political equality. It has to be conducted with mutual sensitivity, especially as both polities have made their core interests known to each other, he stressed.
“They have ambitions as rising powers and it is logical that these can often intersect. Differences between neighbours or rising powers are not unnatural in world politics. But how well they are managed is really the test of diplomacy,” Jaishankar added.