India-China relations are getting better and better each day, so is the news all around. Business-to-business ties are heading to cross the 100 billion mark. People are in-and-out on frequent intervals. The task now is to manage the flow, rather than to push the flow. Therefore, it should seem that the good relations have much in store for those engaged in studying China or at least propagating its culture in India. However, the ground realities tell a different story. In the decades, things for the students and scholars have not improved much, rather there has been an added apprehension for all those who want to explore China, understand China and probably help China in linking with India better.
There is an upscale trend to learn Chinese in India. The motivation driven more by the monetary opportunities linked with it, rather than the real need to comprehend China in any manner. In one sense, this is the beginning for all those who are fascinated by China; while on the other, this questions the incentives one has in getting academically involved with China. The scholarships over the decades have not moved any further. The research proposals have to be limited to not touching any sensitive subject. A research on even a non-sensitive issue does not get requisite approvals for concrete field study. Hence, you continue to use the same western lens to measure and visualize China.
China has marched many miles in its progress and openness. However, the students and scholars of China remain the ‘most unwanted’. Travel to China for any research related work or a Conference has its own limitations. If by any chance, you plan to do the visa formalities on own, you would face the stark reality of how uninvited you are in China. The VFS office, to which Chinese authorities have outsourced visa processing, is a fish market. You step in the office and realize, it is business that works. Are you a businessperson or a travel agent? If no, then please wait for the long queue that works on its own rules. It is chaos from the word “go”. You realize that you are heading towards the most populous country of the world. The young guys and girls sitting to assist you, make life more complicated. You have all the right documents and you have done your homework well, but they will be smart enough to find some document that needs photocopy. Probably, another money-making business running underneath. You put everything in order and they inform you, “Your visa may be rejected”. With all dismay, you leave, trying to comprehend the problem in your visa application. Probably not getting the travel agent do the formalities was a mistake, you realize.
Heading back in all dismay, you meet other friends and colleagues who are engaged in research on other countries, just to be informed either they do not need a visa or their visas are valid for years. You ponder, why China-India relations are not good after years of tranquility on the border. Are leaders progressing anywhere with the border problem? Is all that talk about good relations just for business to work? Yet, you hear businesspersons screaming of the innumerable problems they face in dealing with the Chinese businessmen. Getting a ‘business visa’ is becoming tougher, you are informed. You can be a bridge between the two countries, making it more possible for both sides to enhance a better mutual understanding and to find workable solutions to problems. However, the bottom line is ‘business cooperation’. What solution and what problems you want to highlight? You are the creator of issues that needs be buried, rather than placed on the table for discussion. Wait patiently, your visa is being processed, and you are more sure to be given a visa for a leisure tour to China, provided you stay away from concrete research. Enjoy your China trip.
(The writer, Dr. Geeta Kochhar, is Assistant Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University,New Delhi, India. Views expressed are her own. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org )