Authors :
28 Nov 2014

The National Maritime Foundation (NMF), New Delhi and the Academy of World Watch (AWW), China held their first dialogue at Haikou, Hainan (China) on 17 November 2014. The theme of the dialogue was ‘India-China Convergences in Asia’. The NMF delegation comprised Captain (IN) Gurpreet Khurana (Executive Director), Dr. Om Prakash Dahiya (Associate Fellow) and Ms. Ateetmani Brar (Research Associate). The speakers from the AWW team included Prof. Ma Jiali, Mr. Mao Siwei (former Consul General of China in Kolkata), PLA Sr. Col (Professor) Han Xu Dong (China’s NDU), PLA Navy Sr. Col (Dr.) Zhang Ye, Dr. Mao Ji Kang (Associate Fellow, AWW). The conference was held at the Hainan Institute for World Watch (HNIWW), Haikou, China.

Hainan province is located at the southernmost tip of China. It comprises Hainan Island and adjoining islets. Hainan Island is strategically located at the centre of the Asia-Pacific economic rim, and sits astride major International Shipping Lanes (ISL) of the South China Sea.

In the opening address, Professor Sun Yang, (Vice Chairman, AWW and President, HNIWW) and Captain Gurpreet Khurana (Executive Director, NMF) stated the raison d’etre and organisation of their respective institutions, and expressed optimism for AWW-NMF partnership in the coming years.
Session One of the conference dealt with the ‘Rise of Asia and Emerging World Order’. It was noted that since the end of Cold War, the region witnessed a transformation in the global geo-political and security environment. The change was particularly pronounced in the past five years, during which, Asia has emerged as a major factor in shaping the global order. The genesis of the ‘Asian Resurgence’ was highlighted and the emerging imperative for new Asia-wide economic and security partnerships were discussed.

It was stated that Sino-Indian relations are currently encountering historic opportunities. As the comprehensive power of India and China grows, the potential for a multifaceted bilateral engagement would also increase. President Xi Jinping visit to India in September 2014 was termed as historic, which could inject impetus to enhancing Sino-India relations. President Xi received an extraordinary and unprecedented hospitality in India, with PM Modi accompanying him to his hometown in Gujarat, the so-called “India’s Guangdong”.  

It was noted that by 2030, India and China will account for 30 per cent of the global economic output. Further, the Chinese side recalled Prime Minister Modi’s remarks during President Xi Jinping’s visit to India earlier this year, who had stated that “India and China are two bodies and one soul”. The two countries could also cooperate in multilateral organizations such as the BRICS and RECEP. The mistrust between the two countries is largely due to the unsettled land border dispute, and this could be avoided by not interfering in the other’s internal affairs. It was suggested that the two navies should hold the Maritime Dialogue soon.
China-India relations are currently in a serious dilemma; on one hand, China has become the largest trading partner of India and economic cooperation between the two countries is at its best in all the times; on the other hand, political trust between the two sides has been at its nadir since the Indian nuclear tests in 1998. So, trust rebuilding was desperately needed in the interest of the both countries. The Chinese side highlighted five principles of cooperation between India and China, as follows: -

a)    Non sensationalization of land boundary dispute;
b)    India’s stand on Tibet adhering to One-China policy;
c)     Respect each other’s core concerns (maritime disputes/ Kashmir);
d)     India’s reciprocation of China’s policy on issuance of visa;
e)    Non-discriminatory bilateral trade policies.

During discussions, it was stated that while India is not involved in the maritime disputes involving China, for furthering bilateral relations, Beijing may consider ceasing all its activities in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK). The quadrilateral engagement between China, India, Indonesia and Japan could be the key driver for Asia’s ‘rise’. The existence of land border dispute may be acknowledged explicitly, its sensationalization by the media may not be constructive. Nonetheless, the border issue needs to be settled on priority, not only for progressing China-India relations, but also for the sake of Asia’s ‘rise.

Session Two dealt with the issue of ‘Evolving Security Environment in the Asia-Pacific and IOR’. It was observed that India and China are geographically sandwiched between ‘Western Asia’ (including AF PAK and Iraq-Syria) and ‘Eastern Asia’ (East Asia and Southeast Asia) in their own ways. China lies midway across the Asian ‘heart-land’, whereas India lies in between Western and Eastern Asia across the Asian ‘rim-land’. So, a security development in any of the two areas has a strong national security impact on both countries. China’s ‘Maritime Silk Road’ concept and India’s role in the Indian Ocean were also discussed. It was stated that security structure in Europe is well developed and stable, but it is still evolving in the Asia-Pacific region. Further, China is concerned about the security environment in its eastern periphery, and particularly the growing military capabilities of Japan and its changing defence policy.

Some important issues were addressed during the ensuing discussions. The Indian side enquired about the role of SCO in stabilizing Asia. To this, the Chinese side replied that as a regional organization, SCO focuses on economic issues, which has lately expanded to include terrorism after the 2001 Afghanistan war. The SCO will not turn into a NATO, and China will invite more Asian members to be a part of the SCO. It was also noted that given the shift of American strategic interest from the Atlantic to the Asia-Pacific, Russia was engaging with the IOR countries to displace America’s influence in the region.

    Session Three focused on ‘India’s Look East and China’s March West Concepts: Seeking Convergences’. The genesis of China’s ‘March West’ concept was discussed, and how it would help China in fulfilling its economic and energy imperatives. It was also noted that China’s ‘Maritime Silk Road’ (MSR) and its policy towards Afghanistan are part of ‘March West’. The MSR is not about expanding power, but is an economic initiative. While the concept holds much promise to further Asia’s economic connectivity, China should provide details more objectively.

    During the discussions, the Chinese side enquired India-US relationship, and whether it was targeting China? The Indian response was that India holds immense economic, socio-cultural and strategic stakes in its relations with the US. Even China has major geo-political and economic stakes in the US that is leading to China-US engagement, and hence, Beijing would need to empathise India’s position. However, given India’s enduring foreign policy, New Delhi’s engagement with Washington cannot be at the expense of its relations with Beijing.

    The Chinese side enquired about Indian Navy’s rationale for conducting trilateral/ multilateral naval exercises with US and Japan. It was stated that since the end of the Cold War, the Indian Navy has expanded its foreign exercise commitments manifold in tandem with India’s multi-vectored foreign policy. It has thus been engaging the navies of all major powers like the US, the UK, France, Russia, Japan, Australia and China. Hence, the Indian Navy’s imperative to engage in multilateral exercises is largely driven by the need to tide over resource constraints, cut down operating costs, and maintain operational preparedness, rather than by any need for collective strategic containment of China.

Session Four addressed the functional issues of India-China maritime cooperation, in three domains, ie. Maritime Security (anti-piracy, anti-maritime terrorism, HADR and SAR); Maritime Economics (Maritime Silk Road, shipbuilding, deep seabed mining, blue economy); and cooperation at multilateral organizations like IORA, IONS, ARF, ADMM+, Arctic Council and BRICS.

It emerged from the discussions that while cooperation to respond to non-traditional security threats was exigent, the long standing border dispute and areas of conflicting interest pose major challenges. The Chinese side indicated that economic cooperation may be easier to achieve as compared to security cooperation. Nonetheless, the two navies would need to engage to build mutual trust though enhanced communications among naval leaders, port call and enhancing the scope of combined naval exercises. The Indian side indicated that while achieving tactical-compatibility between the two navies is desirable, enhancing the complexity of exercises would need to be an evolutionary process, for which, the two navies would need to overcome challenges such as the language barrier for naval communications.
    The NMF-AWW dialogue proved fruitful for the two organizations and important issues, challenges, prospects of bilateral cooperation were discussed. In his concluding address, Professor Guo Ming, the Vice President of HNIWW stated that the discussions turned out very constructive and illuminating, shedding more ‘light’, than ‘heat’. It was decided to host the next AWW-NMF Dialogue at New Delhi in 2015 at a mutually convenient date.


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