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History of India-China friendship

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Both India and China have a long history of friendship and diplomatic relations.

Exactly six months after founding of the People’s Republic of China, formal diplomatic ties were established between India and China.

On 1st of April 1950, India became the first non-socialist bloc country and the tenth in the world to recognize the People’s Republic of China (PRC). India thus attached importance to the aspirations of the Chinese masses.

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This year India and China celebrate the 65th anniversary of that historic moment. As they say, “A friend in need is a friend indeed”, India extended a hand of friendship to China at an hour when the Western world was extremely apprehensive about the political ideology of New China. The Western world with which China today aspires to be at par with— took two to three decades more to recognize Red China. India on the other hand was not just a cultural kin but was also active in promoting China’s global status.

Indians like Rabindranath Tagore, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Dwarkanath Kotnis and others wholeheartedly supported the cause of Chinese liberation. In the literary and cultural sphere too, a number of persons from both India and China enriched and enhanced the cross-cultural communication to pave the way for greater understanding, mutual appreciation, and peaceful development. And the basis of that peaceful development can only be possible on the basis of a long-lasting friendship and sustainable cooperation.

It may be borne in mind that the Chinese expression Youyi meaning friendship comprises of two characters. The first character You is a stylized depiction of two clasping hands, meaning amity, and the second character Yi reflects befitting words that denote friendly sentiment. Intimacy and affection conveyed through deeds and honoring the words uttered verbally—manifest genuine friendship.


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As early as in October 1929, Subhas Chandra Bose urged the Indian students—both men and women— to integrate with the oppressed working class towards achieving political and social liberation of India. He wanted the youth to emulate China by saying, “Next door to us is China. Let us, therefore, take a leaf out of Chinese history. See what the students of China have done for their mother country. Can we not do the same for India?…” China’s dynamics towards rejuvenation inspired Subhas Bose.

As the President of the Indian National Congress, he sent the Medical Mission to China in 1938; and subsequently to sent an ambulance, medicines, clothes and money for the war-ravaged China. During his visits to China in 1943-44, Bose had asserted that a unified and liberated China would be beneficial for India’s freedom. He urged “China is indispensable in building a new Asia. Without China’s cooperation, none of the policies to the benefit of Asia can ever be achieved.”

Many documents pertaining to Subhas Chandra Bose’s intimacy with the new communist regime of Mao Zedong in 1949 remain shrouded in mystery. On 7 October 1949, a Calcutta newspaper The Nation reported that the Indian government was “in possession of definite information that Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was in Red China of Mao Tse-tung.”

Later, on 28 October 1949, the report from Ausgabe Politik in Germany reported that Bose was in touch with Mao and Stalin for the cause of India’s liberation. Faced with the power-hungry politicians, the country, unfortunately, could not save its territorial integrity, nor protect the dignity of its people. India was ruthlessly partitioned, bringing an era where India was compelled to compromise in a thousand ways in terms of its national interest.

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Leonard Mosley’s book The Last Days of the British Raj (1962) sheds light on the predicament of India in the name of gaining freedom. This truncated entity of India, which is now called the Republic of India, plundered by generations of self-aggrandizing petty politicians, concluded an understanding with the new government in China that the Nehru-Gandhi dynastic history, certainly loaded with falsehood, must be adopted as the official history of India.

Conveniently Subhas Chandra Bose was relegated to the oblivion, and the role played by him was deleted from the historical narratives of both India and China. If and when Bose’s history is declassified, we might come to know how he took pains to protect thousands of Chinese in Singapore and elsewhere. He refused to send the INA to fight against the anti-Japanese forces in Burma and China. He organized the multi-ethnic Asian liberation forces opposed to an Anglo-American re-occupation of the East after the Second World War and had fought for an Asia for the Asians.

In this backdrop the manner in which the two biggest Asian nations—India and China, established diplomatic relations just five years after the conclusion of the Second World War, left many questions unanswered. The Indian-Chinese-Malay brotherhood forged through the efforts of the Indian Independence League and Provisional Government Azad Hind under the leadership of Rashbehari Bose and later Subhas Chandra Bose— has been continued by the Indian diaspora in Singapore. The Indian government set up by Subhas Bose in 1943 in Singapore was recognized by many countries from both eastern and western hemispheres.


India and China have traversed across the vast expanse of time and space—to learn from each other. Now the new age has come where interdependence is unavoidable. The interests of Asian nations can be preserved by the conscious efforts of the Asians themselves. There cannot be any room for unethical, cut-throat competition. Predatory powers of the West could fish in the troubled waters—taking advantage of any intra-Asian dispute that would prove detrimental to the interest of the region as a whole. We must not be oblivious that India and China are the only surviving civilizations by the virtue of their profound philosophy of love and morality, because of their understanding of the other and a non-aggressive culture. For good-neighborly relations, for China there cannot be no India, for India there cannot be no China. The only path is to know each other in the most earnest manner. It is undeniably true that the material civilization in the world came along with the great inventions made by China, and the lifespring of spiritual civilization emerged from India. The human body standing erect by virtue of spinal cord and bones— needs music for its spiritual life, and food for its material existence. That is the way Chinese character Ti (body) is structured. In my view, the east-west alignment of the Himalayas is the material spine that link India and China, and the Buddhist sutras constitute the spiritual spine that nurture the thoughts in India and China. The mind and the body are reflective of our two civilizations.

When Narendra Damodardas Modi was the Chief-Minister of Gujarat, the West boycotted him and denied him a visa for more than a decade but China understood his charisma as a leader. China has had no such bias or prejudice against Modi whom they considered a man of action and farsightedness. The petty domestic politics in India could not affect China’s focus on her sole agenda of enhancing cooperation and development. Unlike the West, China in fact adhered to her policy of non-interference in domestic affairs of India, and also her independent foreign policy—certainly not dictated by the West.

Prime Minister Modi’s friendly gestures towards President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan in September 2014—opened up a new chapter in our the bilateral relations—based on the spirit of neighborliness and reciprocity. A benign and constructive dispensation during the process of engagement would be imperative for any fruitful neighborly relations. Modi’s initiative of assistance and equal partnership in the immediate neighborhood is in consonance with Xi Jinping’s diplomacy and effective measures adopted to a practical extent.

We might recall what President Xi Jinping said on 24 October 2013. He stated “China’s basic policy of diplomacy with neighboring countries is to treat them as friends and partners, to make them feel secure and to support their development. This policy is characterized by friendship, sincerity, reciprocity and inclusiveness.” Xi also sought to encourage more cultural and people-to-people exchanges with neighboring countries on his earlier premise that China and its neighbors are full of vigor and vitality, and show obvious strength in development, and high potential. Now when India and China need each other in taking major decisions affecting the well-being of their peoples, the two leaderships would require coordinating well with each other and carry forward the agenda of mutual benefit. India or China can never wish away the age-old fact that the two countries would remain neighbors, and they need to cultivate their traditional ties with increasing vigor. The two countries cannot gain by resorting to mutually-denigrating rhetoric. It is only through positive posturing, either in the realm of journalism or in the sphere of academic engagements or business transactions that our relationship can turn a new page. Economic success or geopolitical strategies should never be allowed to blur our cultural complementarity nurtured through ages.

Chinese Ambassador Mr. Le Yucheng has instilled a fresh lease of life in the people-to-people communication between India and China. With his open-hearted demeanor, he has endeared the people in India from all walks of life. Ambassador Le’s “Silk-Spice” perspective has given a new dimension to our bilateral ties. The Silk Road Economic Belt initiative by China can go on the side by side with a Spice Route Prosperity Sphere initiative by India. The Chinese silk and the Indian spice have been after all in high demand from across the world since the ancient times. The Silk Road Spirit can match with the Spice Route Spirit. For that, a completely demilitarized access in both the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean by India and China respectively would be desirable to promote the twin spirits of Silk and Spice. Would that not be wonderful? The age-old cold war mentality must give way to a new era of beneficial convergence of interest, and objectives for nation-building—thereby transforming mutual relations into a strategic partnership. The people-to-people contacts must be elevated to newer heights where their hearts would throb in each other’s pain. People must be trained to hold each other and their customs in high esteem, and where misperceptions about each other will never be encouraged in any form.

At the same time, the state-to-state relations would also need to be bolstered by enhancing security not only in one’s territory but also in the neighbor’s backyard. Cooperation in the field of anti-terrorism and effective mechanisms, therefore, need to be formulated and practically implemented by India and China so as to ensure peaceful development in and around one’s territory.

The faith with which diplomatic ties were established between India and China, 65 years ago, can be strengthened by changing our ground realities and building confidence among our peoples for a mutually-beneficial future. On 18 September 2014, when I met the Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, our Amity found profound resonance with the conveying of greetings in Chinese. The confluence of hearts starts with language and culture. The people-to-people, heart-to-heart contacts assume greater significance and practicality than a mere state-to-state protocol. The clouds of distrust that envelop our bilateral relations must be dispelled for the benefit of the coming generations. A warm and meaningful handshake in a garden of fond memories can bring a sea-change in the collective mindset of people of both the countries.

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Prof. Priyadarsi Mukherji
Prof. Priyadarsi Mukherji
Professor in Chinese Language, Literature & Culture Studies, Centre for Chinese & South-East Asian Studies, School of Language, Literature & Culture Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi


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