High-Level Plenary
Shyam Saran: We do not like U.S.-China collusion, but we don't like U.S.-China confrontation either
January 15, 2024

Shyam Saran

Foreign Secretary of India (2004-2006)

Good afternoon. At the outset, I would like to thank the China-U.S. Exchange Foundation and its president James Chau, the China-United States Exchange Foundation and your chairman, John Zhao as also the China Centre for International Economic Exchanges, and its Executive Vice Chairman, Bi Jingquan, for extending this very cordial invitation to me to participate in the Hong Kong Forum on U.S.-China relations. I must confess that I feel a bit like an interloper in this conversation, perhaps even as an eavesdropper. But since the state of China-U.S. relations, as we have heard, each speaker say, are so important to the rest of the world. Perhaps I can look forward to understanding the nuances of the relationship from a most impressive cast of speakers here at this forum. Of course, from India's standpoint, if you ask me, how do we look at China-U.S. relations, we have a very simple formula, which is that we do not like U.S.-China collusion, but we don't like U.S.-China confrontation either. So it is in that space, where India wishes to operate.

What can I contribute to the improvement of U.S.-China relations from an Indian perspective, because that is the theme of this particular forum. Well, to the extent that India figures in the U.S.- China relationship, perhaps I could help by mitigating, if not removing the India factor from negatively affecting the relationship. There is an American commentary warning that the U.S. cannot rely upon India as a partner if a conflict broke out between U.S. and China, for example, over Taiwan. But this does not reassure our Chinese friends, who sometimes think that India has already gone over to the dark side. If you put these two prevalent perceptions side by side, it should be obvious that India is not going anywhere in either direction. Our policies are driven by our interests, which at this juncture, is to achieve as early as possible, the economic and social development of our people. In this context, our partnership with the U.S. is indispensable, as it is with the European Union, with Japan. These are the partners who may be perceived perhaps by some as being in relative decline, but they remain the chief repositories of high technology, of capital, as well as major markets for India.

China itself has benefited from these partnerships in the past, and therefore perhaps it should understand what India is confronting at this point of time, from its own experience. In fact, even today, China does not wish to decouple from the U.S. and the West. Why should it expect this of India? There was a time when China looked upon India as an economic opportunity and convinced India to look upon China as a great economic opportunity. However, in recent years, our sense is that China has been looking at India through the prism of its prevailing relationship with the U.S. And to some extent, the U.S. too, looks upon its relations with many other countries, also through the prism of its relationship with China. And I think, the less we have that kind of prism, operating on both countries, if they realize that there is a world beyond their own, very important relationship, perhaps they may be able to get along somewhat better. Now, as I said, part of the problem, as we perceive it, is that China looks upon India through its prism, through the prism of its relations with the U.S.

There were problems between India and China in the past, even at the border. But these were always managed very successfully. Through a whole series of mechanisms, both countries were committed to deal with these kinds of difficulties. And always the relationship therefore, over the last 40 years or so, until recently, remained actually on an even keel.

But today, perhaps because of the prism that I mentioned, that may be less of the accommodative spirit of the past, which kept peace at the borders over the last 40 years. A couple of years back at a conference in Beijing, our Vice Foreign Minister of China, commenting upon the tensions between U.S. and China, held India-China relations as a model of how mature countries who may have serious differences between them can actually manage their relations. And so India-China relations were actually held up as a model for other countries to follow. Perhaps, you know, I would like to just say at the end, that it is maybe that sense of maturity, which needs to be brought back not only to China-U.S. relations, but also I would hope to India-China relations as well. Let me leave you with that thought. Thank you very much for your attention.

Related topics