Changing negative impression toward China: What lesson have Indians learned from their own experiences
Published: Apr 07, 2022 06:49 PM
China India Photo:AFP

China India Photo:AFP

As the Russia-Ukraine conflict looms over the international community, inside India, a growing wave of voices advocating for India to shun the West's influence and even calls for a joining of forces with China and other developing countries, have started brewing.

During a recent visit to India, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on March 25 that China and India should "view bilateral relations from a long-term perspective." 

"Civilization exchanges between China and India date back to more than a thousand years ago, with friendly cooperation always being the norm. The respective efforts made by China and India to realize national rejuvenation will have a far-reaching impact on Asia and the world at large," he noted.

Right before Wang's visit, an article titled "Indians Don't Understand History, Or, How India Can Reclaim Its Civilizational Destiny" started trending in the Chinese social media, especially among South Asian affairs scholars. 

In the article, Ganesh Prasad, an Indian-Australian, wrote that "Indeed, the East now has the opportunity to play the 'divide and rule' game against the West!" "India's switch can be the decisive moment that enables the long-delayed rise of Asia," he said.

"China is a dangerous enemy with abiding ill-will toward their country…" Growing up, Prasad was raised with a negative image of China that still endures in India today.  However, what has changed this Indian man's impression of China? What has made him decide to publicize his reflections and thoughts?

Recently, the Global Times interviewed Prasad to gain his perspective on what he learned about China from his own experience.

Ganesh Prasad

Ganesh Prasad

Shared values and cultures

Born in a year after the 1962 war between China and India, Prasad often used to hear from the older generation that "Pakistan and China were the two great enemies of India."

To seek a better life, in 1998, 35-year-old Prasad immigrated to Australia and settled down in Sydney. From then on, he had the first opportunity to know many Chinese people that he had only heard negative stereotypes before.

While working in the field of IT, he met many Chinese people from Singapore, Malaysia, China's Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and the Chinese mainland, with whom he became friends. These friendships have lasted to this day. 

Gradually, Prasad found that the ethnic Chinese were "different" and that "one stereotype cannot sum up all Chinese." This aroused his interest in China.

When he lived in India, he often saw negative reporting on China in the Indian media, and the elites often had a negative impression of China. However, when he talked with his Chinese friends about China-India-related topics, including the war, he was surprised to know that many Chinese people were not even aware that there had been a war between the two countries.

"I think the country that is defeated in a war remembers the humiliation for generations, but the country that wins doesn't think much about it," he said.

Prasad also found that "Indian and Chinese people are very similar in their values, attitudes, culture and behavior, and that the negative stereotypes I was made to believe in when I was growing up were baseless." 

 The "cultural distance" between China and India is much smaller than that between East and West.

For instance, Chinese people tend to understand the common Indian tradition of "arranged marriages," where parents or other elders introduce a couple, and they then have a chat and decide whether to get married or not. Westerners tend to think that all arranged marriages are forced upon young people, and even after it is explained to them that the couple have the right to say no, they still consider the custom to be backward and "barbaric."

As the only son of his parents, he was worried about leaving them alone back in India, because the eldest son has the responsibility of caring for his parents in their old age according to Indian custom. When he expressed this worry to a Chinese friend, he immediately understood, and put his hands on his shoulders saying, "Your shoulders are very heavy."

 "I grew up in an environment with a certain level of racism, which imparted some groundless stereotypes of China onto me," Prasad said. After moving to Australia, he started to view China-Indian relationship from a brand new perspective and was able to understand the history from a place of neutrality. He said he wanted to share his new views of the world every time it occurred to him that there were still many Indians who were like "his previous self."

A total of 1,000 people participate in the fifth International Yoga Day in Beijing. Photo: Li Jieyi/GT

A total of 1,000 people participate in the fifth International Yoga Day in Beijing. Photo: Li Jieyi/GT

Prasad said in his article that, for most of recorded history (except for the last three centuries), the Indic and Sinic civilizations have, together, contributed over 50 percent of global GDP and 50 percent of global trade, with each accounting for about half of those numbers. Apart from these peripheral interactions, the two great civilizations of the East have had little mass contact throughout their histories. They may not have been friends, but they were not enemies, and they were certainly not existential threats to each other.

"India's hostile stance on China is bringing more and more risks," Prasad told the Global Times. The West has been predicting that "China could collapse at any time" in the past 20 years, but it never happened. It is very dangerous for Indians to believe in such propaganda by the West.  

'Important lesson'

Many Chinese netizens said they hope China and India might establish friendly relationships after Prasad's article became trending. 

On the contrary, Indian readers reacted more cautiously toward the article and still maintained a suspicious attitude toward China, saying that the ball is in China's court if the two countries want to solve prevailing border disputes.

It requires mutual trust to solve border disputes, Prasad said. He strongly hopes China and India will solve border disputes as soon as possible in order to face more vital changes in the world that call for cooperation among India, China, Russia, Iran, and Pakistan as well as other major countries in Asia and Europe.  

China is a potential partner, Prasad said. He explained that he used to blame China for all disputes between India and China, but he realized that the facts are very complex after studying the history with a neutral attitude. 

"I want to counter prejudices and tell Indians that cooperation with China will bring about many benefits for India's future," he said.  

Cooperation benefits both 
After the Russia-Ukraine conflict began, on February 26, India and China both abstained from a UN vote on Ukraine. In the following days, Twitter witnessed thousands of posts under hashtags like #StandWithRussia and #StandWithPutin by Indian netizens. 

Prasad said that it is because many Indians believe that the conflict is based on Russia's legitimate security concerns that have long been ignored by the West. Besides, some Indians are grateful to Russia as the country and the former Soviet Union have supported India diplomatically and militarily since India got independence in 1947.    

Students who were evacuated from Ukraine arrive at the Hindon Airforce station in Ghaziabad, India, on March 3, 2022. Photo: AFP

Students who were evacuated from Ukraine arrive at the Hindon Airforce station in Ghaziabad, India, on March 3, 2022. Photo: AFP

Prasad was also echoed by Bali Ram Deepak, director of the Centre for Chinese and Southeast Asian Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, who explained that the reasons for India's abstention are multiple. 

"India has signaled to the world that irrespective of its closer security and economic ties with the US and the West, it will stand alone as far as choosing sides is concerned. Therefore, India will continue to balance its security, economic, and political relations with the West and Russia," Deepak said. 

Though it has not been explicitly spelled out by the Indian government, it has been debated fiercely in India whether the ever-expanding NATO security bloc is part of the problem, which essentially has pushed Russia to the wall and made it extremely distrustful of the West. As far as choosing between the realpolitik and morality, nothing is absolute, except for national interests, the expert said. 

"I don't think the West has taken a high moral ground in conflicts around the globe. The EU and NATO are taking such a position in the Ukrainian crisis, for the war flames are raging in Europe. They feel threatened that the war may engulf their sovereign territories as well, therefore, all the military and information support [is focused on]to Ukraine," Deepak said.

Conflicts far away from their borders, such as Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen etc. are neglected, as if the lives lost in these conflicts do not matter at all. Moreover, if we look at the US and its allies' wars around us, the list gets longer. In brief, it is the double standard and sheer hypocrisy, he said. 

Deepak believes it would be wrong to say that unfriendly voices are not on both sides. They are, and their manifestation is too obvious to ignore during border standoffs or diplomatic spats between the two countries. But both India and China ought to work hard to change the aforementioned negative narrative, so that a better eco-system is created which is conducive to conflict resolution and restoration of friendly relations between the two countries and their people.   

Undoubtedly, the border issue is the root cause of much of the bad blood between India and China. Deepak stressed that if both countries adhere to the scores of agreements signed between them since the late 1980s, respect the LAC until a final agreement is reached, and refrain from advocating and realising maximalist positions, the issue could be settled. 

Prasad also suggests that India cooperate with China in the Belt and Road initiative and provide access to China into the Indian Ocean as well as gain access to Europe through the BRI's overland routes. Cooperation between the two Asian giants would benefit both, he said.