University News

Former ambassador speaks on China-India relations

Nirupama Rao says China and India must ‘enmesh economies’ to foster cooperation

Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Nirupama Rao, former Indian ambassador to the United States, talked about gender bias and economic conflict in a conversation Tuesday.

“India has the promise, has the potential,” said Nirupama Rao, the former Indian ambassador to the United States, in a conversation Tuesday on the foreign relations of China and India.

Rao discussed foreign affairs with Richard Locke, director of the Watson Institute for International Studies and professor of political science. The panel was the first event in the Brown-India Initiative lecture series.

Professor of Political Science Ashutosh Varshney introduced the speakers to a full room of around 60 students and community members, as well as a group watching on a screen upstairs.

“It is well known that the world of diplomacy is rather male-centric,” and India is no exception, Varshney said. But Rao has broken gender barriers and paved the way for female colleagues, serving as India’s foreign secretary, the high commissioner for India in Sri Lanka and her country’s ambassador to the United States, he said.

Locke began the discussion by asking Rao whether she thought the economic rise of India and China would cause international tensions.

“India and China are reemerging,” Rao said, noting that both countries have a long history of participating in Asia’s economy and cultural exchange. The two countries’ recent economic growth has made Asia the “center of economic gravity,” she said. Looking ahead, “it is important to manage tensions — to see how we can enmesh these growing economies in a mosaic of cooperation.”

Locke asked Rao about tensions between India and China over border disputes.

Rao referred to the words of Ji Xianlin, a Chinese writer, saying the “India-China relationship was created in heaven and constructed on Earth, and because it has been constructed on Earth, it has deficiencies.”

Locke went on to cite statistics on historical economic differences between the two nations. In 1990, the per capita incomes in China and India were fairly identical, but now China’s per capita income is three times larger, he said.

“India has grown steadily,” Rao said, citing the last decade of 8 percent growth. Though India’s economic rise has slowed in the past two years, “it is a well-managed economy — there is every possibility of its growth rate picking up,” she said.

The dynamic growth of India’s neighboring country has motivated Indians to keep their economy moving forward, Rao said.

“China serves to us as a spur in many ways, because it is our largest neighbor,” Rao added. “Every morning when we get up, we feel that presence.”

In the question-and-answer session that followed, David Adler ’14 asked about this “presence” of China’s economic success and cultural influence in India.

The United States has “this disturbing tendency to turn economic rivals into cultural villains,” Adler said, asking how economic tensions manifest themselves in Indian culture.

In polls of the Indian public, opinions of China have become more negative, Rao said. “It’s not that we have Bollywood movies with Chinese villains. But somewhere beneath the surface I think there is this feeling about China, this uneasiness,” she said.

Viveka Hulyalkar ’15 asked Rao if she thought having more women enter the Indian workforce would have positive economic and social effects, noting that women currently make up only 25 percent of India’s labor supply.

The greatest economic growth will be spurred by education and innovation by Indian youth of both genders, Rao responded.

Other students asked about India’s relationship with Japan and a recent diplomatic spat between the United States and India over diplomat Devyani Khobragade, who was recently prosecuted for charges of visa fraud.

Rao is currently writing a book about the relationships between India, China and the United States. She will remain at the University for the rest of the semester as the Meera and Vikram Gandhi Fellow at the Watson Institute, according to the Brown-India Initiative’s website.

  • Abhishek

    How egalitarian and justice-loving the US is can be gauged from the fact that its Ambassador Nancy Powell preferred to cancel her trip to Kathmandu, rather than subject herself to airport security checks like a third-world commoner.
    It seems that the class system is up and alive in the US, with the Americans being the ‘exceptional’ ones, and the citizens of the rest of the world are expected to be too servile to question their privileges.

    • Jacobkumar

      It is not that. Be very clear on what you are saying here and very loudly because that is not true. It has been proved in history that India and Indians become hostile when any of their high ranking people or diplomats are subjected to security or other measures. Several cases in the past many years are the evidence. Indian high ranking people and government diplomats today bypass all security and are escorted by group of followers to the plane, breaking all security laws in India, but this is not the case in US. When Shah Rukh Khan was led to secondary search in US port of entry, he made such a big hue and cry. The people of US whether they are citizens, GC holders or just H1 or some visa holders are all randomly subject to additional screening in any port of entry. It does not mean they suspect you. This has never been understood by India. Also to your point, whether it is Nancy Powell or Obama himself, they still have to go through the security clearance and if any stuff is found that is not permissible, they have to reenter the security clearance like all others do. They do not get special treatment like Indian stars or politicians in India.

      Having said that, your point on why Nancy Powell preferred to cancel her trip to Kathmandu could be seen differently. If you and we think tit-for-tat and subject Nancy Powell to severe security screening and show that we are capable of taking revenge in retaliation, that does not show a non-biased mind, it clearly shows a prejudiced mind without understanding why did Devyani subject to strip search? You cannot just consider this case as wrong and subject an American visiting India to similar search because of vengeance. There is a reason she was strip searched and it is valid under US law and is done on all people arrested on criminal cases, such as Visa fraud, which is a serious criminal case of human traficking. If Nancy Powell does something like that and brings in a maid with forgery visa to India to be with her on low wage, I think India has every right to do whatever the legal system requires India to do. But this is not that case. When Devyani went to US as a diplomat, she was not strip searched but she did got through security. And of course Nancy Powell will have to go through security if everybody else does. When in India you are letting politicians and diplomats to bypass security, what rule are we enforcing on other country’s diplomats who are visiting. Don’t you think we need to extend the same procedure that we apply to our country men?

  • Jacobkumar

    Also the reason why she might have cancelled the trip is because, it is very clear that India would retaliate against any US visiting India similar to the suspension of US diplomat that was done as a counter measure to suspension of Devyani. And US did not budge when India put in so much of pressure on them, by taking away all the privileges given to US embassy people as part of the bilateral agreement and later trying to close down US embassy school. India tried very hard to push US to drop the case against a corrupt and caught Indian diplomat on US soil, but to no use. So the corrupt government and the supporters for the corrupt diplomat are currently very angry with US and might do anything to force them to withdraw the case. So in view of this safety of the US ambassador she might have been advised to cancel her trip which is perfectly normal. Do you think India has the guts to subject Nancy Powell to additional security than required? Today US is not at the mercy of India, rather India is. When we boast of all the business we do, about 99 percent of them is working for a US company. Also remember, India is not the only country that offers cheap labor, there are several more. So please get out of this fixed notion that US is surviving on US, it is the reverse, our economy has improved because of US. Yes, of course we contribute to the global development but it is not that we have businesses in India for which we are out sourcing to US. Rather, we are the underdogs and US is outsourcing their jobs to us because our rates are cheap. That’s it. And if someone is firm in believing that US cannot survive without just one country that is India, it is just a dream. It is time to wake up and not survive on foreign contracts, outsourced jobs, call centers, manufacturing centers and the like. If we want to prove our worth, we should turn the gears in a reverse direction and let other countries work for us. Until then, we should not be shouting loud.

    • Abhishek

      (1) “It is very clear that India would retaliate against any US visiting India…” India would have treated the officer as per Indian laws. She would have been subjected to normal frisking, and certainly not the kind of treatment meted out to our ex-President. However, being treated as a common citizen is certainly not palatable for Nancy Powell.
      (2)”Trying to close down US embassy school.” – This is a ridiculous statement. India is going about the case in a very mild manner. Imagine what would be the case if for a school running in Indian embassy in USA, it was found that the teachers have been issued a circular instructing them to systematically engage in visa fraud (refer NY Times) ??? The school authorities are not able to give details re tax liabilities which are being asked of them. The whole operation including the club / restaurant / bar operations reek of wholesale tax fraud.
      (3) “Do you think India has the guts to subject Nancy Powell to additional security than that required?” – There is no question of guts. India would not do anything outside the bounds of basic decency. That is the prerogative of a select group of American babus (officers) led by Bharara. However, it is another matter that Nancy Powell considers even a basic screening to be beneath her status.
      (4) No one is at the mercy of anybody else. Decisions regarding outsourcing or insourcing are taken to maximise the gains of the top 1%. Not for egalitarian needs. The gains would be purely mutual. India is certainly not at the mercy of anybody. Whether US can dare to state the same before the Chinese consul officer is another story.

      • mxm123

        1) Umm, i don’t think American diplomats expect to be treated like royalty. Unlike their Indian counterparts, Ambassador Powelll stayed back to probably oversee the mess, rather than being criticized for going on a vacation.

        2) Tax free positions were approved by the Indian MFA. Was the school gaming it ? Probably. These facilities are there cause of a lack of facilities for expats in India. Think facilities offered in New York are the same as those in New Delhi ? Indian MFA was not doing anybody any great favors. They screw with those facilites and India becomes a not so favored destination for companies.

        3) What indecency was used in by the “babu” Mr Bharara. He followed American law. If you want to see that difference between a country of laws and a country of no laws, America and India would be a fine example. And the results are there for everyone to see.

        4) Outsourcing from India, is probably the only “Industry” in India. Lets be realistic. A country as corrupt and mismanaged as India, has no other major export industry. The gains to India vis a vis America are not exactly mutual.

        China has developed industries in their country that compete directly with American companies. Indians have glorified body shops. Big difference.

      • gzaetz

        “India would not do anything outside the bounds of basic decency,” said Abhishek. That’s simply not true. The Singh Government has shown that it is quite willing to go beyond the bounds of basic decency by denying to 400 American families their basic human right to have the remains of their loved ones – American military aviators who died in air crashes in Arunachal Pradesh during World War II – returned to them for a decent burial. If that’s not going outside the bounds of basic decency, I don’t know what is. Hopefully, the new Modi Government has a better grasp of basic decency than the late unlamented government of Manmohan Singh.

        • Abhishek

          At last, Obama has realized the monumental level of stupidity of his diplomatic staff. He has fired Nancy Powell, and has extended an invitation to the Indian PM to visit USA. Well, someone had to pay for Bharara’s idiocy.

  • Abhishek

    The Indian authorities have dealt with America re the Khobragade affair with utmost restraint. The consular officers were found to be selling liquor imported duty free, to outsiders at a profit – a smuggling activity. The teachers of the embassy school have indulged in blatant visa fraud. The tax frauds committed are a separate story. Reciprocity would have demanded that we would have thrown the whole lot in prison, after a strip cavity search. Americans should be thankful.

    • mxm123

      Restraint ? Huh. From what i understand the American Embassy threatened to move visa processing to Singapore. For a body shop economy like India, that would be bad news. Indians should stop pretending that India is some kinda world power to be reckoned with.

      • Gopal

        If India is so unimportant, why is the US trying so hard to get us to help them contain China? Why the constant harping about the “string of pearls” to try and turn us against China? The Japanese cling to the US for protection because they fear retribution by other Asians for their WW II crimes. We have no such fear. Why should we help you. Especially when we know the country you are trying to protect is not India but Australia.

        • mxm123

          India has no such fear. Really ? Is that why India is busy buying up Hercules “Flying Fortresses” from America. And welcoming the Japanese Prime Minister to India to have security arrangements. India is in no shape to take on China. And it knows it.

          • Gopal

            It’s called “keeping your options open” and exploring all scenerios whether likely or unlikely. By the way, Sweden also has a pretty capable airforce, including the Hercules. Maybe they fear invasion by Norway? No? Then Denmark perhaps?

          • mxm123

            “No such fear”. Really ? And thats why India is among the largest importers of arms in the world. If u consider being used as a pawn as being important, good for you.

            India as a country, as corrupt and inefficient as it is, has no choice but to buy such equipment to face China. Think Tejas, an aircraft 20 years in the making. And u still want to pretend India is some world power of consequence, even better for you.

          • Gopal

            Go and read my first post again.
            I said Japan committed war crimes against other Asians therefore she fears reprisals. India has no such fear’
            That should be clear enough to anyone with basic skills in comprehension but you were so obsessed with promoting a India vs China scenario, you immediately insisted that our recent actions were evidence of a fear of China. Good for you.
            You cited arms purchases as evidence and I showed you they mean no such thing.
            You cited defence talks with the Japanese as evidence but we had defence talks with China too, last year in Beijing. And more talks were held last month.
            Does that mean we fear Japan?
            Yes, corruption is a big problem in India, but that is not evidence we fear China.

          • mxm123

            Japan has enough internal technology, if it chooses, that it can develop an advanced military on its own. However the pacifist element in that country after WWII chooses to rely on the United States.

            India has no such technology. Corruption and the endless excuse machine in India has made its armed forces totally reliant on arms imports. China has steadily encroached on Indias’ sphere of influence. Burma and Sri Lanka for example. Also chinesse subs lurk in the Indian ocean. And Indias submarine fleet is steadily shrinking. And yet you want to pretend that India is some great power.

            Indians need to accept the truth. Almost every institution in that country has been corrupted. To the extent that its ability to confront China has become a real issue. But i guess Indians are so preachy that confronting them with cold facts is pointless.

          • Gopal

            So we’re back to that old “divide and conquer” thing, are we?
            Plus that shiny String of Pearls for good measure.
            Boy, old habits are sure hard to break.
            Anyway, let me assure you that thanks to your eloquent arguments
            we are now quaking in our boots. Our PM will be on the next plane to Washington to beg for protection

          • mxm123

            Its not dive and conquer. Rather its reality. India is an extremely corrupt country whose institutions have failed its people. You can give all the sarcastic talk you want. But the fact remains starting from coffins for Kargil they’ve had to import massive amounts of defence equipment to keep up with China. A light shining brightly on the sad and rotten state of affairs.

  • piyu2cool

    India should maintain its distance from both America and China. America has a tendency to disrespect or humiliate its allies while respecting potential competition or foes. India should maintain strategic autonomy while gaining economic concessions from both of them. It’s a policy of riding two horses at the same time.