Source: CGTN Published: 2019-10-9
Editor's Note: The article is based on interviews with Zhao Gancheng, a senior research fellow and director of South Asia Studies at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, and Long Xingchun, director of the Center for Indian Studies at China West Normal University.
India's new restrictions on academic exchanges with China immediately triggered widespread speculation. Highly vigilant of China's rapid rise, the Indian government has been known for its strict scrutiny of collaborative programs involving Beijing. But still, the new regulations – all Indian educational institutes need a nod from the Ministries of Home and External Affairs before seeking tie-ups with Chinese counterparts – is jaw-dropping for the academic circle.
Apart from long-term student exchanges, short-term workshops with participation from Chinese scholars are also monitored under the directive, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported. Former Indian ambassador Phunchok Stobdan, as quoted by the SCMP, justifies the move as an attempt to safeguard India's national security, implying that some universities contract the Indian government's policy on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in the name of academic interests.
"This is merely an excuse," Zhao Gancheng, a senior research fellow and director of South Asia Studies at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, told CGTN.
New Delhi is known for its opposition to the BRI, with its Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar clarifying on several occasions that India will not join the initiative. "The Indian government has the right to reject the BRI proposal but cannot forbid scholars from communicating on the initiative," Zhao said.
By tightening supervision on academic exchanges, New Delhi is venting its dissatisfaction against Beijing's South Asia policy, Zhao said. It is worth noting that the directive was announced only days before Chinese President Xi Jinping's informal meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi this week. This, combined with India's military drill in South Tibet, which the Indian government calls "Arunachal Pradesh," clearly signals New Delhi's discontent with Beijing.
What is India complaining about? The Chinese government's stance on New Delhi's recent Kashmir move may be the answer. From India's perspective, it has already conducted intensive communications with Beijing on its decision to strip the special status of India-controlled Kashmir, with Jaishankar flying to Beijing in early August to discuss the matter with Chinese officials in person. However, China still condemned the move as unacceptable.
Despite Beijing reiterating its neutral stance on the New Delhi-Islamabad border disputes, China is considered a reliable "ally" of Pakistan, firmly supporting its Iron Brother on a slew of international affairs, including the Kashmir issue. This is what makes India unhappy. Also, Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan is currently on his Beijing trip, further intensifying India's grudges against China.
But in the meantime, India is unwilling to upset the atmosphere for the upcoming Xi-Modi informal summit. Therefore, instead of explicitly voicing its opposition against Beijing's South Asia policy, the Indian government decided to tighten restrictions on academic exchanges with China as an outlet to vent its dissatisfaction.
The directive also highlights the Modi government's lack of self-confidence, said Long Xingchun, director of the Center for Indian Studies at China West Normal University and a research fellow at the Charhar Institute.
"Academic exchanges between different countries are quite common and are of vital importance in enhancing state-to-state relationships," Long said. He added that restraints on these exchanges only demonstrate New Delhi's rising anxieties about its neighbor.
The restraints will backfire. Apart from jeopardizing the independence of Indian educational institutes and stifling the free flow of academic ideas within the country, the directive will further cripple the mutual trust between Beijing and New Delhi and negatively affect the two countries' strategic communications, Long warned.
The importance of the China-India relationship can never be underestimated. How to enhance mutual trust and lead the relationship toward win-win cooperation is a challenge that requires both countries' collaborative efforts.
Long Xingchun is a visiting research fellow with the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies of Renmin University of China.