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Former ambassador speaks on China-India relations

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

“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.


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