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International Cultural Conference- “Know Thy Neighbor- Growth of India & China: Socio-Cul

C3S Event Report No: 003/2019

Read and download event concept note and programme at this link: February 9 2019_Concept note and Programme

The third C3S International Cultural Conference was organized on February 9th, 2019. The event, of the theme, “Know Thy Neighbour: Growth of India & China: Socio-Cultural Percepts and Propositions”, was jointly organised by the Chennai Centre for China Studies (C3S); CITIZENARTS, New York; and the Department of Political Science, Justice Basheer Ahmed Sayeed (JBAS) College for Women (Autonomous), Chennai at the Academy Hall, S.I.E.T Campus, Chennai.

The event drew more than a hundred students, scholars and delegates. The participants comprised of ambassadors (current and retired officials), retired officials from the Indian Administrative Service, senior fellows from the field of policy think tanks, journalists and more than 40 students from educational institutions in Chennai and Puducherry.

Inaugural Session

The Welcome Address was given by Dr. Shanaz Ahamed M.Sc. B.Ed. M.Phil. Ph.D., Principal, JBAS College. India and China were recognized the two Asian giants which are the leaders of the upcoming era. Both countries stand out for their rich culture, history and heritage. India and China have been able to forge relations at the state-to-state level, yet there is an enormous gap between the people of the two nations. This conference provides an opportunity to the public to learn more about our neighbour, China, which is one of the first steps to enhance people-to-people contacts. Since India and China are hubs of skilled labour, the ideas of the future will originate from these two nations.  In order to sync these ideas, it is necessary for countries to know more about each other.

Mr Faizur Rahman Sayeed, LLB., Bar-at-Law, Secretary of S.I.E. Trust, Correspondent of JBAS College, delivered the Presidential address. Being neighbours, it is essential for India and China to minimise focus on their differences and rather look at maximizing focus on areas of common interest. There is immense scope for both countries to learn from each other. However, this is only possible when their interactions are taken to the next level, via means such as this Cultural Conference.

The Inaugural Address was delivered by Prof. V. Suryanarayan, Former Director, Centre for South and South East Asian Studies, University of Madras, Chennai; President, C3S. He highlighted the fact that out of the twenty-two great historical world civilizations, only the Indic and Sinic civilizations have been able to survive till date. Therefore, the two countries’ civilizational character cannot be undermined. According to the speaker, China and India have had differences since ancient times in their worldviews, a scenario which continues in contemporary times. India as a civilization had kept itself open to exchanges with the rest of the world, leading to the country interacting with traders, explorers and even invaders and conquerors throughout the nation’s history. On the contrary, China kept itself self-contained in order to prevent itself from what it termed the ‘barbarians of the outside world’. While India welcomed other cultural influences, China aimed to sinicize those who came to its land or were located near its territories. Clearly, it is necessary to understand the history of these two countries in order to understand their present worldview and cultural-orientation. One should look more at areas of convergence, than those of conflict. If the two countries capitalize on this aspect, then “Chindia” will arise to steer the future of the international order. It is very difficult for peripheral states (provinces) to contribute to the making of foreign policy. However, C3S aims to explore a southern perspective about such crucial issues, as was an aim of the Cultural Conference.

Mr. James Gabbe, Educator, Filmmaker, Writer, Editor, Publisher and founder of CITIZENARTS,  delivered the Keynote Address. It was stated that ten years ago, U.S.A used to see China with hostility and indifference. China was viewed as a state that would never have the capacity to challenge the US. Since the 1990s there has been a complete turnaround, with China as the upcoming global leader that challenges U.S.A in almost every sector. China today is a force to reckon with. Hence, as important it is for the US to understand China, it becomes all the more crucial for India to know its neighbour. Both China and India account for one-third of the world’s populations, while displaying certain cultural similarities and having common land and maritime borderlines. Despite these commonalities, there is very less understanding of either side. The perceptions that the Chinese people hold of India is very different from the Indian reality and vice versa. The people of both countries were urged by the speaker to look beyond demagoguery of political groups, and rather invest greater efforts bridging bilateral gaps. There needs to be a deeper understanding of the reasons which shape India and China as they are in the present era. This can be facilitated by looking at their history and culture. A brief description was given about the CITIZENARTS documentary, ‘To the Mountaintops’, that was presented post the inaugural session.

Amb Sujan R. Chinoy, IFS (Retd.); Director General, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi; former Ambassador of India to Japan & former Director (China) MEA/Consul General in Shanghai, delivered the Theme Address. The speaker laid stress on the need for India and China to not only know one another but moreover build amicable relationships with each other. It is imperative that the two countries change with time. In the ancient era, these two countries forged relations through the journeys of travellers and monks, which helped in cultural exchanges. Relations deteriorated during the 1960s due to the border dispute. In the contemporary period, India and China have forged robust economic ties, but are still on a harsh edge when it comes to security dimensions. Specific events which shattered the dream of unity of Asia were touched upon by the speaker. While the 1962 war has left a deep scar in India, the event was hardly mentioned in Chinese discourse. In addition, Indian and Chinese societies are drastically different. India places more emphasis on relative morality whereas the Chinese place more value on the material world. Nevertheless, by looking at the indispensable role of soft power and its utilization of by various Asian countries, China has adopted soft power as a tool that is employed alongside hard power projection channels. The speaker added that it is appreciable how India and China managed to stabilize relations post-Doklam. There is a need to further the dialogue process. While differences would always remain between India and China, both sides should ensure that the divergences do not escalate into disputes. To conclude, the speaker underlined that the 21st century would not be of weight without cooperation between India and China.

The Vote of Thanks was given by Commodore R. Seshadri Vasan, Indian Navy (Retd.); Director, Chennai Centre for China Studies (C3S); Regional Director, NMF-Chennai Chapter; and Head, Strategy and Security Studies, Centre for Asia Studies. He reiterated C3S’ foremost objective which is to reach out to the youth as was the objective of the Cultural Conference.

A condensed version of a CITIZENARTS documentary “To the Mountaintops” was presented post the inaugural session. The preview of this documentary is at this link.

Plenary Session I- Foundations of Growth: Cultural Context

The first plenary session was a panel discussion on the theme ‘Foundations of Growth: Cultural Context’. It was chaired by Mr K. Subramanian, Former Joint Secretary (Retd.), Ministry of Finance, Government of India; Treasurer, C3S. The first panelist, Mr Rajagopalan Chandrasekaran, Chennai-based Consultant & Adviser for Evergreen Artemia Group Inc, Binzhou City, Shandong Province, China discussed ‘Entrepreneurship in China and India’. According to the speaker’s experiences, the Chinese are proactive entrepreneurs who are constantly searching for opportunities to invest and work. The Chinese tend to agree on manageable terms and maintain a benevolent relationship in business matters. However, the suspicion that the two countries have for one another acts a hindrance. For instance, the mutual suspicion between the two countries’ governments makes it tough for business persons and entrepreneurs from either side to gain visas, thus casting a shadow on their business relations. The speaker was of the view that think tanks can play a vital role in addressing the issue with the concerned ministries in order to facilitate a resolution.

Mr Rajaram Muthukrishnan, Investor and Director, Voice Snap, Chennai; Member, C3S, spoke on China’s financial sector. He recalled the process in 1979 when China opened up its economy and decided to adopt a modern banking system. Until that decision was taken, China lacked modern banking infrastructure. In order to accommodate the new financial needs, China started four parent banks- the Bank of China (BOC), the China Construction Bank (CCB), the Agricultural Bank of China (ABC), and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC). These banks bore the complete initial expenditure of China’s state enterprises, which led to a vast accumulation of non-profit assets (NPAs) in Chinese debt. However, China purchased all its NPAs in order to offset the situation. This move was possible, given that China is a Communist authoritarian state and has the liberty to enact certain measures which are unlikely in a democratic state. The differences in the nature of the two states’ governments have contributed significantly to the different paths taken for financial systems to evolve in India and China.

The third panelist, Mr. Praveen Ravi, Independent Advisor on Infrastructure and Governance, Chennai, described the approach towards infrastructure development in India and China. Statistical data on infrastructure expenditure of the percentage of GDP in both countries were discussed. While India contributes 4 – 4.5 per cent of its GDP to infrastructure development, China spends about 10 per cent of its GDP on infrastructure projects. The different stages of an infrastructure development life cycle, which include planning, execution and usage, were discussed in the Chinese and the Indian contexts. China has surpassed India in the first two stages (planning and execution) in terms of investment, time management and effectiveness of the implementation process. In India, maximum spending is seen in both economic infrastructure and social infrastructure projects.  The Chinese narrative is in contrast, with most spending in China being directed towards economic development projects. The challenges for acquiring land for infrastructure projects in India are far more than those faced by China, due to the different governmental structures.The authority of the Communist Party of China is absolute. Due to China’s single-party system, the longevity of projects is ensured, unlike in India. However, both countries are sites of corrupt practices, with the effect of corruption being more visible in India than in China. Interestingly, infrastructure development in India is based on the needs of those at the lower strata, while in China, a top-down approach has been adopted.

Mr. L. V. Krishnan, Former Director of Safety Research Group, Indira Gandhi Center for Atomic Research, Kalpakkam; Member, C3S was the fourth panelist, and he discussed Innovation in R&D and Technology in India and China. The panelist spoke on how innovation among the top agendas of both countries. While India and China have been taking steps to support innovation within themselves, China has much earlier surpassed India in terms of government planning and support via funding and policy-making. Intriguingly, there was a time earlier when neither country was able to catalyze an industrial revolution in their terrain. In the modern age, China is bridging the innovation gap by investing in quality education and research to generate knowledge. India is observed to lag behind despite its high capabilities.

Plenary Session II- Building Blocks: Socio-Cultural Dimensions

The second plenary session on the theme ‘Building Blocks: Socio-Cultural Dimensions’ was chaired by Dr. Indira A., Consulting Economist, Bengaluru; Associate Member, C3S. The first panelist, Mrs. Uma Balu, Director, Sahara Asia, Chennai; Member, C3S,  presented on the topic of Education in India and China. The differences in statistics of gross enrollment of students in the two countries was seen in stark figures, with about 90 per cent in China and approximately 60 per cent in India. The constitution of China clearly lays down the right of every child to be educated for at least nine years. China’s schooling program shows many similarities to the Indian scenario in the initial stages. But at the higher stages, the Chinese schooling system provides a diverse array of subjects in its curriculum, with the focus addressing daily life subjects such as the arts, painting, cooking and languages. A choice is given to students on whether to study vocational training courses.  College admissions are given to Chinese students according to their capabilities. According to the speaker, it is disappointing that the number of vocational training institutes in India is less, due to low demand. There is not much exposure to foreign languages in India as is in China. The Chinese seek language training and recognize the value of this path for further career opportunities. The Chinese government has been extensively granting scholarships, fellowships and other concessionary programs for not only Chinese students but also to those from abroad, hence using education as a soft power tool. One needs to ponder about the Indian education system which appears to have become monotonous over time. The curriculum has basic subjects and gives low priority to learning languages and skills. The Indian education system is at the crossroads and needs to decide how to balance the need to skill versus the need to score.

The next panelist, Dr. Bikash Kali Das, Founder and Secretary, Pondicherry India China Friendship Association (PICFA); Member, Young Minds of C3S is a Doctor by profession who pursued MBBS in China. He presented on the Healthcare sector in China and India. Medical techniques which both India and China have followed as well as adapted were discussed. Acupuncture, for instance, was described as a medical treatment technique used in China but having originated in India. While India supplies generic drugs that are in demand in China, perhaps due to the large middle class population, a significant range of medical equipment is imported into India from China. India is gaining from being a site of medical tourism. Many overseas citizens visit India for special medical treatments, both Ayurveda and modern health treatment. This is perhaps due to the affordability factor and high quality of medical treatment offered. The optimum utilization of various medical expos, exhibitions and delegation visits can drive the Indian medical industry to unprecedented levels. While modern medical tourism is not high on the agenda of Chinese visitors to India, traditional medicinal practices in both countries can be realized as a valuable link of cultural exchange.

Dr. Alagu Perumal Ramasamy, Assistant Professor, International Business, Loyola Institute of Business Administration (LIBA), Chennai; Member, C3S, spoke on the Agriculture sector in India and China. It was described how the agriculture systems evolved in both the countries, which has contributed to shaping their cultural landscapes as well, especially in rural areas. Food safety is a concern of greater gravity in China than in India.

The next panelist, Mr Somi Hazari, MD, Shosova Group of Companies; Senior Advisor (India), Transnational Strategy Group LLM; Member, C3S, discussed the contours of the Food and Beverages Industry in India and China.  China’s vast food market was described, and an evaluation of the country’s food industry was made. However food scams and related scandals have clouded nation’s food industry. Despite the resultant backlash, China has seen its people adopt food as a lifestyle, even a fashion. Several food giants have established themselves successfully in China, including HEMA, an initiative by Alibaba. The food giants happen to be lifelines for the citizens who are often found to crave, create and experiment with new delicacies. Nevertheless, the Chinese have recently begun to spend time reading the ingredients and index labels to be careful of what they eat or cook. The demand in the beverage industry in China is also improving. Plant-based drinks such as from wheat grass are gaining popularity. The vegan trend is new in China but the Chinese are adapting it to meat-based delicacies. Food can become a common link between India and China, despite the apparent schism in cuisines, as the Indian society is equally obsessed with food. Although India and China are Asia’s food giants, the imports from China to India in this sector has reduced in the past decade. India has banned the import of China’s pulses and lentils which earlier would be transported into India either officially or through informal means (smuggled through borders). Chinese food products popular in India include fruit, Ajinomoto, wine and edible sauces. Indian spices and sugar are well known and in demand in China. There is scope to build on these demands and expand the scope of cultural linkages via food and beverages in both India and China.

Plenary Session III- Soft Power and Cultural Dynamics

Plenary Session III was on the theme ‘Soft Power and Cultural Dynamics’ and was chaired by Ms. Raakhee Suryaprakash, Chief Programming Officer, Red Elephant Foundation; Founder-Director, ‘Sunshine Millennium’; Associate Member, C3S. The first panelist Ms. Sooryakala Jeyasooria, journalist at HERE! Dongguan Magazine, China, spoke on the Publishing Industry in China. It was analyzed how the number of publishing houses and publications have grown tremendously in China, both in Mandarin Chinese and in foreign languages. One trigger for this is that China has a highly literate society. The second panelist – Dr. Suresh Sethuraman, Fulbright Academic and Professional Excellence Lecturing Fellow, Chennai, described various historic evidences supporting the presence of Chinese travellers in India during ancient times. There are several sites of archaeological and tourist value in India, as the ancient Chinese had passed through them. India has the potential to capitalise these sites, which would increase Chinese tourist inflow and thus enhance bilateral cultural linkages. The third panelist- Ms. Ashwini Ravichandran, B.A. Social Sciences, Tata Institute of Social Sciences; Intern, C3S, spoke on the Sustainable Development sector within India and China. It was stated that for the two fast-developing countries, the concept of sustainable development increasingly relevant. China has now been able to combine sustainable technology with its developmental programs. India still lags behind in this domain. The last speaker of the panel Ms. Anuja Gurele, Research Officer, C3S. She spoke on Gender Issues amidst Growth Stories of India and China. The presence of gender disparity in fields of economics and politics in India and China were described. While in China women are surging ahead economically they face political and societal restrictions. India has many cases of women in top leadership posts yet the majority of women face discrimination, especially in the rural areas.

Plenary Session IV: Interactive Session on “Culture as an Enabler for Growth Trajectories”

The concluding Plenary Session was an Interactive Round on “Culture as an Enabler for Growth Trajectories”, moderated by Mr. James Gabbe, CITIZENARTS. Members of the audience shared personal experiences about interacting with Chinese people.

The Summing Up was conducted by Ms. Raakhee Suryaprakash and Prof. V. Suryanarayan. It was stated that unless the knowledge gap between the two giants, India and China, is bridged,  several differences will continue to be mediated upon without concrete results. India and China cannot avoid interacting with one another, and must hence learn to manage each other. This endeavour can be realized with the tool of cultural exchanges.

The Vote of Thanks was delivered by Dr. A. S. Mallika, H.O.D, Department of Political Science, JBAS College.

(Compiled by: Ms. Anuja Gurele, Research Officer, C3S)

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