Beyond the Chinese Wall

Updated: Jan 21 2002, 05:30am hrs
The Indians and the Chinese drink from a deeper well. Both historically and culturally, a common thread runs through the two neighbours. It is but natural that these links are also extended to commerce and trade in such a way that both reap the benefits. In this context, the Chinese premier Zhu Rongji’s just concluded India visit needs special mention. He left behind a trail of goodwill and warmth which should go a long way in further cementing Sino-Indian relations.

Discerning observers will note that throughout his interaction with Indian authorities and industry representatives, business took centrestage. All other issues were secondary.

And if symbolism was needed, he gave it in ample measure by taking an on-the-spot decision to allow IT major Infosys Technologies to set up shop in Shanghai. When will our authorities exhibit a similar efficiency in decision making

It’s perhaps for the first time the Chinese have looked at India on equal terms, reflecting a qualitative difference in approach. Heads of state do keep visiting us, but none in recent times has made the kind of lasting impression as was made by Mr Rongji. Think of the scenario envisioned by the Chinese Premier: The world’s two most populous nations get together combining each other’s known strengths in the field of manufacturing. China is the acknowledged leader in the manufacture of computer hardware, just as India is known for its supremacy in software. If both countries join hands in the IT sector, it will bestow both a superpower status, something which will force the rest of the world to sit up and take notice.

The Chinese Premier lamented that the bilateral trade between India and China stands at $3 billion — the same as between China and Vietnam — and spoke about the need to raise this to a respectable level of at least $10 billion. Latest figures suggest that India’s trade with China grew by 25 per cent during 2000-01 and the trend is likely to continue in the current year. Since the balance of trade is still in favour of China, India needs to step up its exports.

With better understanding and cordial relations, this issue can be addressed at the governmental level. Given its vast exposure to the international market, India has a lot to learn and gain from the Chinese experience.

This can also have a positive bearing on foreign direct investment into India. Indeed, Malaysia witnessed a quantum leap in Chinese investments last year. Mr Rongji came extending a warm hand of friendship and a rare display of candour. It’s now up to India to reciprocate.