When China opened up a new route for Indian pilgrims to Kailash-Manasarovar last June, Ambassador Le Yucheng was the first Chinese official to cross the border through the new route at Nathu La and receive the pilgrims. Le is forever on the move, crisscrossing India, eyeing opportunities to strengthen Beijing's ties with New Delhi. At the same time, he is clear about China's priorities and concedes that there are several issues that plague Sino-Indian relations, including the trade surplus in China's favour and the longstanding boundary disputes. In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, Le says China and India do not see eye to eye on every issue. On the controversial issue of the rising Chinese influence in the Indian Ocean region, for instance, Le expects India to respect China's legitimate interests and position in the region. The border crisis, he says, is a western colonial creation.
What do you think of India's China policy under Prime Minister Narendra Modi? What are your suggestions for improving people-to-people contacts between the two countries?
Prime Minister Modi attaches great importance to developing relations with China. He paid a successful visit to China in May, and the commercial agreements signed during the visit were worth more than $20 billion. A few days ago, he announced that India formally extended e-visa to Chinese tourists. In June, China and India agreed to open a new pilgrimage route through Nathu La to Kailash-Manasarovar.
China and India have a combined population of 2.5 billion, which is 40 per cent of the world’s population, but our people know too little about each other. I think much remains to be done.
We will enhance tourism cooperation. We will also improve local cooperation and encourage more cooperation between young people, because they are the future of a country. We will step up cultural exchanges and enhance the friendship between the general public. A Chinese volunteer recently donated his stem cells to an unknown Indian boy. Last year, a group of Indian businessmen in Zhejiang province donated blood to a Chinese girl suffering from leukaemia. The amity between the peoples holds the key to sound relations between states.
Although trade ties between India and China are growing, so is the trade imbalance, which is skewed in China's favour.
The root of the imbalance lies in the differences in the industrial structures of the two countries. China has done a lot to increase import from India. Since 2008, China has sent six trade delegations to India to help boost imports from India. China hopes that India will make full use of a variety of trading platforms offered by China to promote trade. We also hope that India can ease export restrictions on products like iron ore and reduce export duties, encouraging Indian enterprises to expand exports of agricultural produces.
We should not use trade in goods as the only measure to scale the economic relations between the two countries. Finally, we will increase mutual investments to promote balanced trade. To encourage more Chinese companies to invest in India and contribute to 'Make in India', the key is to relax the visa restrictions for Chinese enterprises and provide more investment facilitation. As more Chinese business people come, investment opportunities will increase. This is an important way to tackle trade imbalances.
As China goes forward with its 'Belt and Road' strategy, India seems to be worried about a possible China-Russia-Pakistan axis.
China’s 'Belt and Road' initiative is in response to the need of the times, and the goal is to strengthen economic cooperation among neighbouring countries, promote cultural exchanges and achieve common development. It has nothing to do with geopolitics. Russia and Pakistan are important neighbours of China and important countries along the Silk Road. They support the 'Belt and Road' initiative and take an active part in it. Our cooperation with them is going on well. India, with its unique geographic location, is an important country along the ancient Silk Road and the Spice Road, and now in the intersection of 'Belt and Road'.
The Zakiur Rahman Lakhvi case has caused serious disquiet in Delhi. What prompted China to take such a position?
When it comes to counter-terrorism, China, India and Pakistan are all victims of terrorism, and are firmly opposed to terrorism. There is no contradiction between China and India on this issue as it involves our common interests. The issue related to Zakiur Rahman Lakhvi is of multilateral nature, and as such requires communication and coordination among parties. It is natural that China and India do not see eye to eye on every issue. In fact, China and India are strengthening cooperation in the fight against terrorism.
Does China refuse to see the Indian Ocean region as a sphere of influence for India?
I have read the cover story of THE WEEK on July 25, titled "Indian Ocean becomes Chinese Ocean". It has an attractive cover photo, but I don’t agree with the conclusion.
China cannot develop without the Indian Ocean, while India will grow beyond the Indian Ocean. The sea routes via the Indian Ocean are very important to China's maritime trade and energy supply and China hopes India will respect China's legitimate interests and position in this region. Last year, the Chinese navy docked in some ports of countries around the Indian Ocean for replenishment, which is an internationally common practice. There are regularly scheduled missions of Chinese naval escort fleet to the Gulf of Aden and Somali waters.
India is the largest country in south Asia and the Indian Ocean rim and no country can contain India. What China does is not against India and we have no hidden agenda. China does not have the so-called 'string of pearls' strategy to contain India.
Are you satisfied with the progress on the border issue?
Historically, the Sino-Indian border has never been delimited. Indians and Chinese have lived in peace without dispute for a long time. But, unfortunately, when the western colonists invaded Asia, they also brought the Sino-Indian border dispute. The border, however, has seen peace and stability in recent years and the two countries are making constructive efforts to address the issue through negotiation. Special representatives for the border question have held 18 meetings and achieved initial results. Both sides have agreed with the political guiding principles for solving the border question and are having close consultations in accordance with the "three-step" road map. Both countries have made significant progress in controlling disputes and jointly maintaining peace in the border region.
The Sino-Indian border question is a hassle left by western colonialists. However, as ancient civilisations, I am sure, China and India will one day resolve the problem with oriental wisdom.