The meeting set forth the principles of future Sino-India relations, emphasising closer strategic communication, deeper pragmatic cooperation etc.
In 1954, the newly independent China and India came up with the much reputed Panchsheela Agreement, known as the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, which set Sino India relations on a fast track and became a guiding principle for the newly independent states, after decolonization, to be able to develop a new and more principled approach to international relations in the backdrop of the Cold War.
On 27-28 April 2018, on the picturesque Dong Hu Lake, Wuhan, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi carried out their historic, first informal meeting, during which the two visionaries reached a wide range of common ground and guided a new future for Sino-India relations with the Wuhan consensus.
From Panchsheela to Wuhan Spirit—to say that this meeting is historic because it took place at a time when the world was undergoing major changes, with global power balance shifting from the west to the east amid a push for anti-globalization, the rise of unilateralism, challenges to the world order and the evolution of the fourth industrial revolution. China and India are the new engines of the world economy and upholders of a justified and a fair world order. So this informal meeting has charted a new mechanism for top leaders of China and India to engage with each other. This has greatly boosted the personal chemistry between President Xi and PM Modi, which helps enhance mutual understanding and mutual trust between of the two people at the top level.
This meeting is historic also because it has led the people from various fields at different levels from both countries to sit down and find common opportunities, which has steered Sino India relations in the right track of common development and to the greatest extent avoided misjudgement of each other’s development goals and strategic intentions.
It’s historic because the meeting set forth the principles of future Sino-India relations, emphasising closer strategic communication, deeper pragmatic cooperation, wider range of people to people communication, handling differences in a more mature manner, enhancing coordination and cooperation in regional and global issues, with both countries willing to join efforts to strike a stable, and prosperous Asia in the 21st century.
As we’ve known, Sino-India relations are one of the most important and complicated bilateral relations in the world. Ups and downs are sure to be there. For quite some time the Wuhan consensus has been facing a strong headwind from both countries and beyond. Suspicions abound about the Wuhan Spirit being dead or having yielded no major agreements except for minimising the negative effects of the Donglang standoff, and which I myself could hardly believe in.
For China and India, having good bilateral relations is as necessary as humans needing water and air. We may say it’s somewhat polluted, but we can never live without it. We were all victims of western colonisation, and frankly almost all problems we’ve been having with each other are leftovers of the colonists with the purpose to keep China and India in permanent disharmony, because they understand the potential China and India have. And it’s only by keeping China and India fighting each other, that they can ensure that the two do not pose a challenge to their superiority in the world order. The Wuhan Spirit shows the two peoples and the world that we don’t want to fight each other, that we can get our problems resolved over a candid and friendly exchange of views during a walk alongside a lake.
During the Wuhan informal meeting, President Xi and PM Modi agreed that socialism, with Chinese characteristics, has entered a new era in China. While PM Modi has set forth the target of building a “New India”, which means in terms of development, China and India face similar tasks. So to further facilitate the domestic agenda of development, it’s critical to maintain a friendly, peaceful and stable neighbourhood. By emphasising on the importance of dialogue, communication, cooperation, peaceful coexistence and long lasting friendship, the Wuhan Spirit serves as a golden guiding principle in keeping good neighbourly relations, which would forge a favourable regional situation for domestic agenda.
In an age of major changes unseen in a century, the Wuhan Spirit is critical for China and India. On the one hand, we are facing challenges such as anti-globalisation, unilateralism and the potential collapse of a multilateral system of governance. China and India, as firm supporters of globalisation, multilateral governance system and upholder of developing countries’ interests in the world arena, have great common interests in joining hands to safeguard globalisation, a multilateral trade system, norms of WTO, and global agendas such as tackling climate change and struggling for a justified and fair world order for developing countries;
On the other hand, China and India have opportunities such as the world power balance shifting gradually from the West to Asia Pacific, with the rise of developing countries and emerging economies and with the onset of the fourth industrial revolution with the development of 5G, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, quantum information technology etc. Due to historic misfortunes, both China and India have missed the bullet train of the previous industrial revolutions. This kept us for a long time at the lower end of the global industrial chain at relatively backward domestic industrial development levels. Faced with the fourth industrial revolution, China and India complement each other: China has low cost but high quality 5G technology, while India has a highly developed outsourcing software service, to name but a few. The Wuhan Spirit in this regard has served as a guiding principle by emphasising better coordination, communication and pragmatic cooperation.
In the end, I’d like to share a fable from China. Two brothers found a jar of gold buried deep in their own yard. Instead of sharing the gold, the brothers fought each other which drew the attention of a cunning neighbour, who exploited the anger between the two and instigated the two brothers into a deadly fight, and stole the whole jar of gold. China and India may have differences, but there’s always more solutions than problems and more common grounds than differences. With more common grounds it’s definitely much easier to end the limited differences.
Just as PM Modi put it during the first informal meeting, India and China, the largest developing countries and huge emerging markets with a total population of 2.6 billion, are a stabling factor in the world and the development of the two is of critical significance to the world and the developing countries. With the second informal meeting likely to take place in India, we should have faith and confidence in our bilateral relations, have faith in the Wuhan consensus, for it will lead us to a long-lasting peace, friendship and common prosperity.
Zhang Hualong is the Chief of Bureau, Chief Correspondent, New Delhi Bureau, of Wen Hui Daily of Shanghai, China.