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C3S Dialogue on a Manifesto Paper, “Why Focus on Culture at C3S?”

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Article No. 60/2018

The following is text of a virtual dialogue conducted by C3S members and researchers. The theme revolved around the need for the think tank to carry out research and activities of a cultural theme. Various perspectives were put forth on the value that cultural focus brings to the study of security, trade and other socio-economic factors. A C3S Manifesto has been documented, which includes recommendations from the discussions held on the topic. Readers are encouraged to share their comments and feedback on how C3S can take the way forward on this path.

Read the Manifesto PDF at this link: Why Focus on Culture at C3S?

Col. R. Hariharan VSM (Retd.), Retired Officer of Intelligence Corps, Government of India; Member, C3S

I would like to bring out the following points –

C3S should broad-base cultural research to include social, linguistic and historical aspects. Culture conditions national vision building as China’s President Xi Jinping relates his global expansion as part of the Chinese Dream. So the organization has to continue to pay close attention to socio-cultural aspects. We need to include “socio-economic research”.

Mr. T.V. Krishnamurthy, Investment Banker and Business Strategist; Member, C3S

I want to caution everyone who is excited about cultural research. The document is brilliant. But it must be noted that focus on strategic matters should not be lost, be it economic, financial and military aspects which are tangible and where our outputs are verifiable and will be useful in real time.

In my view, history or arts are subjects of final resort when you have nothing else.

To summarize in two words: Tangible research.

Ms. Asma Masood, Research Officer, C3S

In response to queries from few members, this report aims to express that culture is a ‘multidisciplinary’ field and will be examined in tandem with other aspects. In no way would C3S undermine security or other topics. As seen earlier, it has been a major focus at the C3S 10th Anniversary Conference, and will continue to be so in many future endeavours of the think tank. The paper also details the significance of the socio-cultural dynamics in economy and trade. This would clear the doubts expressed by Mr. T. V. Krishnamurthy.

His opinion on culture being a “last resort” is debatable. It is neither the first nor the last. Rather it is one of the threads that make the entire tapestry of Sino-Indian relations. One domain cannot exist without the other. Besides, if culture is a negligible denominator, business deals would be conducted in cold, unfamiliar and unwelcoming environments with neither side expressing an amiable approach. Mistrust would be bound to increase in such a scenario.

Mr. K. Subramanian, Former Joint Secretary (Retd.), Ministry of Finance, Government of India; Treasurer, C3S

A country’s strategy or economy is not run on empty wheels. They are as much governed (guided?) by culture or, at bottom, nurture it. For instance, the rising or strident nationalism in China has much to do with how the West treated it in the past, viz. Opium Wars and later under its Nationalist rule guided, backstage, by the U.S. Chinese President Xi’s vision of the Chinese Dream is as much an assertion of a new found nationalism as it is a challenge to the U.S seeking to subjugate it again. Rising economic growth, the emergence of the new middle class, consumerism, women’s liberation and the whole lot of issues connected with mass migration and urbanization have their impact on evolving economic policies in China. The explosion of internet and the emergence of newer technologies are changing the life styles and aspirations of the average Chinese. Despite its authoritarian political structure, China is turning into a violently interactive society and its policymakers can ill afford to ignore them. These are clear signs of this in their economic policies.

Having regard to these implications, one suggests that if we keep the cultural tilt in the analysis of various issues, the output will be richer. C3S must enhance its cultural research by employing Chinese language reports, in addition to secondary sources.

Mr. Subramanyam Sridharan, Member, Young Minds of C3S

Culture increasingly plays an important role in soft-power projection. It is debatable whether China will go to war so easily with another country, though the contours of the current (dis)engagement between China and the U.S appear to follow the Thucydides Trap to a ‘T’.

For that matter, China may not even go to war with the Philippines, leave alone a Vietnam or even Taiwan, before c. 2050.

But, the Chinese are engaged in soft-power projection very subtly through their Confucius Institutes. A case in point in our neighbourhood is Pakistan.

Cultural aspects do even provide an excellent framework for understanding the trajectory of a nation, especially ancient civilizations such as those like China or India.

Cmde. R. S. Vasan IN (Retd.), Former Regional Commander, Coast Guard Region (East); Director, C3S

It is heartening to see that there has been free and frank discussion on this issue. It was our Patron, Shri B. S. Raghavan, who first raised this question when we are planning certain activities.  Accordingly, Asma was tasked by me to prepare a draft manifesto. It is to her credit that she has brought the nuances of the cultural connect that impacts other domains. Well done to her for her efforts in preparing this document which provides the justificaiton for us to start looking at culture in a more serious manner.  Mr. K. Subramanian is also spot on when he talks about the importance of understanding culture which makes it easier to transact with people and Government.  It is clear that this trip along the cultural route is not at the cost of other primary areas of study and research.  It would complement our study and add depth to understanding other domains in the backdrop of cultural relations, past and present.

Imagine trying to understand the Chinese without the knowledge of their past. Whether it is Confucius, Sun Tzu’s Art of War, the ‘Middle Kingdom Syndrome’, the Cultural Revolution, the Opium Wars or the Tiananmen Square incident, these are rich legacies/follies/achievements which have shaped the behaviour of the Chinese society. It is no surprise that the past influences their dealings with the rest of the world. As of now, it is an annual feature at C3S to have one major event close to the Chinese New Year (other countries in the region, who celebrate their new year on the same day do not like it to be called Chinese New Year but a Lunar New Year) We still need to work on what works best for us as we try to also foray in to another area in which we do not have adequate experience. Two cultural conferences do not make us experts (for that matter anybody) in that domain. We will start with baby steps and see how it aids our research in other areas. We also need experts who can advise us on the way ahead.  We need people who can work for us in this domain by bringing in the experts and stake holders in to our fold. All that is a big challenge.

I must thank the Patron for the question raised by him, which has set the ball rolling in the right direction. It is for us now to take it forward to assist C3S in increasing its profile in any which way.

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