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Facing the Future and Charting a New Course for the Dragon-Elephant Tango
Preface to "China and India 70th Anniversary of Diplomatic Relations Commemorative Volume"
2020/12/31

The year 2020 marks the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the People's Republic of China and the Republic of India. In this context, China and India had planned to organize 70 activities to commemorate the 70th anniversary. However, the sudden outbreak of Covid-19 early in the year disrupted our plan, and India resolutely adopted nationwide lockdown at the end of March, making it difficult to carry out large-scale programs of celebration. Therefore, we chose to compile a commemorative collection; inviting friends from all walks of life to write down their thoughts and feelings on Sino-Indian relations. After months of preparation and untiring efforts of nearly 60 authors, this collection finally comes out at the end of this year.

I went through each and every article. Most of the articles in English are authored by Indian friends who are from various sectors of the society in East India, including senior politicians, business leaders, doctors, reporters, engineers, university teachers, community workers, students, etc. They vividly described their deep bonding with China, eloquently recording the unforgettable experiences; reminisced about various events in China and directly expressed ardent desire for a productive and warm China-India relationship.

As for the Chinese authors included here, a part of them are from Kunming, the sister city of Kolkata. They trace close cooperation and exchanges between Yunnan Province and West Bengal in recent years. Besides, Chinese diplomats, leaders from the local Chinese community, Chinese company personnel and Chinese students also contributed by recording their work and life experiences in India.

Each article is an important testimony to the friendship between China and India, and opens a window for thoroughly understanding the history of China-India relations in 70 years. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to all the authors for their wonderful pieces and hard work.

I would like to especially thank His Excellency Ambassador Sun Weidong and colleagues from Chinese Embassy in India for their guidance and support. Thanks also to the Yunnan Foreign Affairs Office for its great support.

At the same time, I also pay tribute to Dr. Prasanna Kumar Patasani, former Member of Parliament, and express my sincere thanks to him for sending the congratulatory letter for this volume.

China-India Relations

The past 70 years witnessed an extraordinary journey of China-India relations. With joint efforts of successive leaders from both sides, China and India have established a strategic partnership for peace and prosperity. Although the development of China-India relations is not always smooth, friendship and cooperation have always been the lifeblood.

Especially in recent years, President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi held two informal summits and reached important consensus. They emphasized that China and India offer development opportunities to each other and their friendly relation introduce a factor of stability in the current international landscape. We need to strengthen the closer developmental partnership between our two countries.

China-India relations today are hard-earned and should be cherished all the more. The more difficulties and challenges in bilateral relations we face, the calmer and the more rational we should be so we do not to undermine the overall relationship.

Exchanges and cooperation at sub-national level are an important pillar of bilateral relations and also the work focus of Chinese Consulate General in Kolkata. East India, where my office is located, is not only the political, scientific, educational and cultural center of modern India, but also an area where many major events of friendly exchanges between China and India have taken place in different phases of our history.

The city Bodhgaya where Shakyamuni found enlightenment is located in Bihar. Tāmralipta and Magádha, which were visited by Fa Xian of Eastern Jin Dynasty, are located in the south of West Bengal, and Patna, the capital of Bihar, respectively. Nalanda, where Master Xuan Zang of the Tang Dynasty devoted himself to studying Buddhism, was also in Bihar. And the Kalinga kingdom, the birthplace of Mahayana Buddhism, where both Fa Xian and Xuan Zang had visited, is located in Odisha.

When it comes to the modern era, the connection between China and East India also goes deep. Kolkata has the largest Chinese community in India, and Mr. Yang Dazhao, the first Chinese migrant to India, settled down in the southern suburbs of Kolkata. The city is also hometown of Tagore, the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature who visited China three times. The place where he founded the University Visva Bharati and established the Cheena Bhavan is located in Santiniketan, about 180 kilometers northwest of Kolkata. The hometown of Dr. Basu, a member of Indian Medical Team sent to China during its War against Japanese Aggression, comrade of Dr. Kotnis, is from Kolkata. It was Dr. Basu who single-handedly institutionalized commemoration activities for Dr. Kotnis and promoted Chinese acupuncture in India.

Swami Vivekananda, a renowned Indian philosopher who enjoys a high reputation in the West, was born in Kolkata. He once predicted that Chinese culture would be reborn like a phoenix. It is also worth mentioning that the two Indians who have won the Nobel Prize in economics in recent decades, Prof. Amartya Sen and Prof. Abhijit Banerjee, are from West Bengal too.

Sub-national Exchanges

Since I took office as the fifth Consul General in Kolkata in January 2019, I have always put friendly exchanges and cooperation between East India and China as the top priority of my work. I have visited Jharkhand, Odisha and Bihar several times. Wherever I go, I like to get deep into the local community to know about life and work of ordinary people. Due to Covid-19, my outdoor activities in 2020 have been greatly reduced, but I still keep in touch with many Indian friends. With the deepening of my understanding, I increasingly believe that sub-national cooperation and people-to-people exchanges between China and India have a great potential that can be tapped.

1. Deepen friendship and write new "Tales of Sister Cities".

Sister cities (provinces, pradesh, states) mechanism originated from people-to-people exchanges initiated by the United States towards Germany and Japan after World War II, which is known as Citizen Diplomacy. As both China and India are ancient civilizations, Citizen Diplomacy from the West may not apply to us. People say West Bengal and Yunnan Province are a natural pair of sister provinces/pradesh, and Kolkata and Kunming are sister cities confirmed by both governments. How to energize sister city connection and make it contribute to bilateral relations at large?

The more friends visit each other, the deeper friendship will be. In June 2019, Ms. Chaitali Das, Managing Trustee of Rakshak Foundation, led a women’s delegation from Kolkata to visit Yunnan to gain better understanding about its development in the fields of women rights protection, poverty alleviation, education, urban planning, ethnic minority and cultural heritage protection etc. Ms. Chaitali Das also made donations to build a digital library for poor children in Jinping County, a national poverty-stricken county, making her the first Indian in this regard. After the delegation returned to Kolkata, it made a presentation in Chinese Consulate, and put forward many practical suggestions on cooperation. At the end of 2019, at the kind invitation of Ms. Das, the Yunnan women delegation visited Kolkata and Chennai. In the week-long visit, the itinerary was tight and the atmosphere was intimate, which was exactly like mutual visits among sisters.

Many more similar visits and friendly exchanges have taken place. On the one hand, the delegation of Bengal National Chamber of Commerce & Industry attended the South China Expo in Yunnan in June 2019, all students and teachers from the Chinese Department of Jharkhand Central University visited Yunnan, a delegation of acupuncturists from West Bengal went to Yunnan for a short-term training in December 2019, and a delegation of representatives from winning Durga Puja Committees visited Yunnan too. On the other hand, Yunnan’s enthusiasm for West Bengal has been increasing. In addition to the deputy director of the Yunnan Provincial People’s Congress leading a delegation to attend West Bengal Global Business Summit, Director-General and director on South Asia of Yunnan Foreign Affairs Office, as well as think tank experts have visited Kolkata. What’s more, youth from East India who study clinical medicine in Yunnan have made contributions to West Bengal’s healthcare development, Yunnan foreign officers made a special visit to Kolkata to hold a reception for these Indian doctors.

In short, in the past two years, I have been delighted to see more and more East Indian friends visiting Yunnan for conferences, business, and tourism. When they think of Yunnan, places like Kunming, Dali, Cangshan and Erhai come to their mind. Friends from Yunnan also told me that they like receiving guests from India the most.

Besides, I want to mention Odisha in particular. Before coming to India, I knew Fujian Province and Odisha had been in contact but little progress had been made for many years, so I made a special visit to the Foreign Affairs Office of Fujian Province to gain more information. After taking office as Consul General, I visited Odisha as soon as possible, conveyed the expectations of Fujian Province, and discussed possible cooperation with local politicians and entrepreneurs. In April 2019 when Odisha was hit by the super cyclone Fani, Fujian Foreign Affairs Office sent a letter of condolence immediately. In September 2019, Ms. Rosalin Patasani Mishra, President of Parichay Foundation, led a delegation to Fujian to participate in the Xiamen International Investment and Trade Fair. The two sides have made an important step forward, creating favorable conditions for subsequent cooperation.

2. Focus on livelihood projects and create tangible results.

In the summer of 2019, I visited Karahanga Village of Odisha, which was hit hardest by cyclone Fani, and Laghurajp Village, famous for making traditional Odisha handicrafts, and participated in local tree planting activities. I was deeply impressed by local government and civil organizations’ high efficiency in disaster resistance and mitigation, their concern for people’s sufferings and also optimism of ordinary people.

Early this year, East India was hit by Covid-19, and what made the situation worse was the super cyclone Amphan causing interruption of power, communications, and transportation. I witnessed local officials at all levels work round the clock on disease prevention and disaster relief. A friend in Kolkata told me that she would go to the community for which she provided assistance to distribute food and other supplies every week.

In March 2019, I visited Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand, to know the implementation of the follow-up work after the Chief Minister’s visit to China, and Indian friends emphasized employment and vocational training cooperation. So when I visited Jharkhand for the second time in June, I made a special visit to Kaushal College and Mega Skill Center, two vocational schools that train nurses and construction technicians respectively.

My intuitive feeling is that since the independence of India and the founding of China, the two countries have accumulated unique experience and practices to improve the livelihood of people, but due to great differences in national conditions, systems and performance evaluation of officials, exchange has been less. Mutual sharing and learning of experience in this field must be promoted in a big way.

3. Promote people-to-people exchanges and strengthen connectivity among people. Friendship that derives from in-depth communication and exchanges between the people holds the key to sound state-to-state relations.

Firstly, highlight cultural integration. At the Chinese Dragon Boat Festival in 2019, female diplomats of Chinese Consulate General, teachers of Dakshini Prayash and Indian staff of Chinese Visa Center sang a classic song of Tagore Ami Chini Go Chini Tomare in Bengali; they sang all together, and students of Dakshini Prayash performed a Chinese dance. At the 70th National Day Reception in 2019, an Indian friend Mr. Dutta who had worked in China sang a Chinese song Jasmine with his family. Ms. Wu Kan, a Chinese girl who studied classical Odissi dance in Odisha, flew to Kolkata specially to perform for us. This kind of cultural programs where ordinary people are participants, prove that Chinese and Indian people share the traditional virtues of appreciating the culture of others as they do for one's own.

Secondly, involve different sections of society in organizing activities. After the Dragon Boat Festival in 2019, many young friends strongly recommended organising the "National Day Cup" basketball tournament. With joint efforts from Chinese community, Chinese companies and Indian friends, the tournament was held successfully and dozens of games were played since the beginning of August. To participate in the tournament, some friends of Chinese community would rather postpone their migration plan to foreign countries, and some members of Chinese companies even flew in from neighboring pradesh to West Bengal every week.

On August 25th, at the invitation of the Kolkata Indian Chinese Buddhist Association, I attended Prayers for the 70th Anniversary of the Founding of the People's Republic of China and the 72nd Anniversary of the Independence of the Republic of India held at Xuan Zang Temple. The great success inspired Master Hui Rong, and President of the Buddhist Association Mr. Chen Qiwei, who returned from Canada specially for the programs. They mobilized all necessary resources and did their utmost to prepare for the prayer event on a larger scale to be held under Bodhi Tree of Mahabodhi Temple in Bodhgaya on September 15th, which was an unprecedented program held by civil organizations to promote sound development of bilateral relations between China and India. On the morning of September 15th, the Prayer was held in a solemn atmosphere. I attended along with Visva Bharati Vice Chancellor Mr. Bidyut Chakrabarty, Secretary of Mahabodhi Temple Management Committee N. S. Dorjee, Kolkata Chinese Buddhist Association President Mr. Chen Qiwei, Bhikkhu-in-Charge of Mahabodhi Society of India-Kolkata Ven. M Medhankara Thero, Mahabodhi Temple Chief Monk Chalinda, Bodhgaya Chinese Temple Chief Monk Huirong, and monks from 68 temples in Bodhgaya, representatives of Chinese community in Kolkata, media reporters and local Buddhist followers.

Monks devoted themselves to chanting of Song Of The Triple Gem, praying for the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, the 72nd anniversary of the independence of the Republic of India and healthy development of China-India relations. Chalinda and Master Hui Rong jointly prayed for the health and longevity of Prime Minister Modi and President Xi Jinping, and wished the Second Informal Meeting a complete success and the friendship between the two countries lasted for generations. The scene was magnificent, conveying the message of peace and friendship.

In order to successfully organize two prayer events, Kolkata Indian Chinese Buddhist Association has overcome difficulties such as long distances, hot weather and harsh conditions, which reflects the capability of overseas Chinese in organizing big events and their ardent expectations for Sino-India friendship. Their hard work has won high praises from all the guests, and will surely endure as a landmark event in the history of religious and people-to-people exchanges between China and India.

Thirdly, put ourselves in the shoes of Indian friends. On the third day of my arrival at Kolkata in 2019, cultural officials of West Bengal came to visit and extended the invitation for Kolkata International Dance and Jazz Festival. Once I understood the needs of Indian friends clearly, I immediately coordinated with relevant departments of Yunnan Province to send young artists from Kunming Ethnic Song and Dance Troupe to participate. Performances by Chinese artists were warmly welcomed and highly praised by audiences.

Early this year, Assistant Professor Anirban Ghosh, who is a graduate of Cheena Bhavan, VisvaBharati and works in Mumbai, visited my office twice, expressing his desire to organize "China Photo Exhibition" with his own photos on China at his hometown Panihati and sought our support. After several field inspections, we found Mr. Ghosh and members of the organizing committee loved Chinese culture and supported friendly exchanges between China and India. Their only problem was the lack of photos for exhibition, so we decided to select 60 photos celebrating the 70th Founding Anniversary of the People’s Republic of China for them. On February 28, the opening ceremony of Panihati International Mother Language Day was held on the playground next to a local school. The celebration lasted for three days, including various programs like parades, painting competitions, cultural performances, attracting a large number of people. Many of them visited "China Photo Exhibition", watched photos carefully and left messages on the notebook.

Fourth, go deep into the grassroots community. I have experienced many exchange programs when I worked in the US, and I feel China is good at making sophisticated and aesthetic artistic works, which require high standard venues and equipment. However, India is different from the United States and China. Its cultural heritage is profound, with artistic forms like songs, dances being elastic and spontaneous. A large number of cultural and artistic activities can be held on simple stages built on the streets, so China’s exchange programs may be misfit in India.

We made some attempts. When designing the 2020 Spring Festival Reception, we followed the idea of “small but excellent”, and successfully facilitated Yunnan cultural and sports delegation to visit Kolkata from January 12th to 14th. Apart from performing in Spring Festival Reception for more than 800 guests along with Chinese Lion Dance Team, Kolkata band Beat Blasters and Consulate Women Group, Yunnan delegation also gave wonderful performances at Peimay School in Tangra Chinatown, a park in the Constituency of West Bengal Member of Parliament, and the small studio of Techno India University, resulting in a whirlwind tour of Chinese culture in Kolkata.

Looking Into the Future

China and India are the only two ancient civilizations in the world with a population of more than 1 billion. In the course of development, both countries have formed distinctive political systems and governance mechanisms, and made extraordinary achievements in national development, social governance, personnel training, education, poverty alleviation, etc.

Before the Second Informal Meeting between President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Modi, my office and Visva Bharati jointly held an international conference on China India Developmental Dynamics. Forty-two well-known scholars from both countries had in-depth discussions on topics such as developmental dynamics of China and India, economic and people-to-people links, Tagore and Sino-Indian relations. More than ten mainstream Indian media, including PTI, Times of India, the Telegraph, Anandabazar Patrika etc. covered the event in English, Hindi, Bengali, and Urdu. Many scholars said excitedly, "It is the first time we have participated in the seminar on governance experience between China and India, which has opened up new areas of exchanges between the two countries. It is a very good start!"

The significance of the seminar not only lies in the concept of developmental dynamics of China and India, but also the proposal of a new way to serve exchanges between the two countries. Many well-known Indian scholars like Prof. Bidyut Chakrabarty, and famous universities and think tanks similar to Visva Bharati, serve the development of India in various academic fields such as politics, law, social governance, and business. Compared with the regularity, diversity and comprehensiveness of India’s academic cooperation with western counterparts, their collaboration with China is relatively limited. I believe the first "international conference on China India Developmental Dynamics" will provide impetus for further expansion of people-to-people exchange areas between China and India.

The development of bilateral relations requires not only the guidance from the top leaders, but also the active promotion of common people. China-India relations should take root among people, encourage them to deeply participate in the process of bilateral relations and increase their sense of gain from friendly cooperation. Facing difficulties and challenges in China-India relations, I believe everyone still needs to work harder to build a solid foundation through more grounded activities, well-designed exchange programs, and beneficial cooperation projects, so as to make people of the two countries gain more mutual understanding and trust but less misconception and suspicion.

Friends, let us take the opportunity of celebrating the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between China and India to renew the friendship and write new chapters in bilateral relations!

Let us join hands to realise “Dragon-Elephant Tango”, and achieve greater glory in the next 70 years!

H.E. Mr. Zha Liyou

Consul General of the People's Republic of China in Kolkata

October, 2020

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