India, China: Friends, not foes

The two weeks I've spent in China have reinforced my conviction that, barring the unfortunate border conflict in 1962, our two nations have had a friendly relationship in the past and are mandated by history to rediscover that friendship in the future. It is the duty of the peoples and governments of India and China to make resolute, intensive and uninterrupted efforts to live not only as good neighbours but also as friends and partners to reshape the world as a better place for the entire mankind.

These days, especially in the immediate aftermath of the 50th anniversary of the 1962 war that left a deep scar on the Indian psyche, it is difficult to express the view that our two nations have been friends and should once again be friends. Talk of friendship in a context like this is easily liable to be viewed as weakness. Nevertheless, I believe that this is indeed the time to remind ourselves about the essential and historical nature of India-China relationship.

Why? Is 1962 the only point in the past of the India-China ties that we Indians should remember? Why do we forget the long and friendly civilisational contacts between our peoples for over two millennia? Why do we forget the journey of Buddha's message of peace and enlightenment from India to China, carried by countless number of devoted monks who trekked thousands of miles braving hazardous mountains, forests and rivers? Why do we forget that Buddhism has left a deep and transformative imprint on Chinese civilisation itself?

Why do we forget the journeys of another noble messenger of peace and friendship? Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore's three landmark visits to China in the 1920s, his close association with Xu Zhimo, a great Chinese poet, and the unbelievably widespread popularity that Tagore's poetry enjoys even today among Chinese people, cannot be ignored. Prof Yu Longyu, director of the Centre of Indian Studies at Shenzhen University and a renowned Tagore scholar himself, told me: "I can proudly say that no country in the world outside India commemorated Tagore's 150th birth anniversary last year with greater love and enthusiasm than China did. More than 100 new publications on Tagore came out in the Chinese language last year alone."

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