Hu Xijin is the editor-in-chief of the Communist Party-run mouthpiece, Global Times, in Beijing. During the Obama visit, the paper urged Delhi not to ‘fall into the western trap’. In Delhi for an India-China media conference, Hu spoke to HT about the state of bilateral relations, the Obama visit impact, and China’s engagement with South Asian countries.
Where do you see India-China relations at the moment?
Objectively speaking, India-China relations are in a very good state. There have been several high level exchanges. President Xi travelled to India last year. Prime Minister Modi is expected to travel to China very soon. In the past, such high level exchanges were not there. Now, it is very frequent. Although the present trade between India and China is huge, it is still smaller than our trade with Japan or Korea. But we should be sure that trade between us will grow very rapidly. As far as the border problem is concerned, the border is peaceful. Although there are some reports about the border issue, there are generally exaggerated reports about what is happening there. It is because of these three factors that I say relations are in a very good state.
President Obama visited India recently and Delhi and Washington signed up to a joint vision for Asia Pacific and Indian Ocean region. How do you see this, especially in the backdrop of the Chinese foreign ministry reacting to the vision? Do you think Beijing’s rise was an underlying motivation in India and US signing this?
It is imperative that India and US will step up their cooperation with each other. This is bound to happen. China is not perturbed. I can’t say it has had no influence on China, but I can say for sure that it has not had a big influence on China. This is because China and US have good relations too. Obama visited China two months ago. Xi visited India. Modi will pay a visit to China. It is not that if your ties with America are good, China’s ties with US are bad. In the current world situation, all countries have good relations with each other. This is not a zero-sum game. We have self confidence and we know we can deal with the situation very well. I have never thought that when I would visit India, so many people would ask me about Obama. It is a genuine question, but I am surprised that everyone is asking me this. In China, we paid attention to the Obama visit but we really did not pay as much attention as some Indians thought.
In the paper you edit, there was an article that warned India against falling into the western trap. What is this trap? Is there a view in China that such ties between Delhi and Washington will endanger regional stability?
As I said, there was some influence of the visit but not very big. The West really wants that China and India have a big competition, competition which is more than normal. We always read such articles which come in the western media about the rivalry between dragon and the elephant. But the competition between us is not as critical as some want and seek.
China has developed and is developing by itself; India is developing by itself. We did not disturb each other. Today, China’s power is much bigger than India. We don’t view a threat from India. We consider India as a partner. Your task and our task are common. We want to develop, our people want a good life; you have a similar task. We have no reason to hit each other. The border problem is historic but we should not fight each other because of this historic problem. I don’t think and I don’t believe India wants to fight with China. I can tell you China and its people do not want to fight with India.
Every day we think about economy and development. Mostly, you think about developing too. You have your system, capitalism. We have our system. You have your advantages and weaknesses. We have our advantages. But we have our weaknesses too. Some people always raise issues of inequality, pollution, corruption. Here, the inequality is much bigger than in China. Your family here may have two or three servants at home, but we in China don’t have servants because the salary is high. So we can’t. Our inequality is not as deep as yours but the media here doesn’t raise it as much. This is a big problem for China. The country is developing well, but people think it should develop better. So as I said, we have our advantages and weaknesses. You are a big country and so are we.
Earlier, we did not compare ourselves with you. We compared ourselves to Japan and South Korea. We always asked why their development is better than China. Now, we hear India comparing itself to China. India wants to develop more quickly than China. Now, there is a change with some in China comparing it to India – but this is not strong. Because, we think we have now enough advantages and so we don’t need to feel competitive with India. In the future, maybe this will change. China is not growing as fast as before, maybe India will develop faster than China. And even if that happens, it is ok. China can’t always develop so fast; it is abnormal, unreal and impossible. But we are before you because we have grown faster for so long. China is faster than America, but US is better than China. If you are faster, it doesn’t mean everything is better in India than China. We have our advantages.
The west always compares you and us. This is not objective. If China seeks resources and oil in Africa, they say it is not good. It is their western propaganda. We should be peaceful and develop together. We shouldn’t think if Obama has come to you, you are better and China will die. This is too naïve and too simple. Our relationship is good too. China-US trade is the biggest trade in the world. Your trade with US is very small, maybe one tenth of our trade. Our trade with Korea is also many times bigger than India.
China’s engagement with South Asian countries – especially Pakistan and increasingly Sri Lanka and Maldives – has made India insecure about your intentions in this region. Officials here often explain their engagement in East Asia as a response to this. Don’t you think China needs to be more sensitive?
You are being a bit under-confident. China does not think East Asia is Chinese. If you get cooperation from East Asian countries, it is ok. We cooperate with Sri Lanka or Pakistan not to target India. I understand some people may not be happy with our cooperation with Sri Lanka. I understand that. But when you cooperate with Japan, you talk about East China Sea, we are unhappy. You should understand our unhappiness and we should understand your unhappiness. Both countries should overcome these feelings of unhappiness, control and restrain these feelings. We should not let it loose, and get used to it. At the same time, we need to have more realistic thinking.
You and we should understand this is unavoidable. China will have good relations with Sri Lanka. India will have good relations with Japan. At the same time, China and India should have good relations. We should understand all this and accept this. We don’t have any other choice. Indian Ocean is not India’s – it is international. West Pacific Ocean is not Chinese – it is international. You come here, it is ok. But you should understand the Chinese feeling. We go to Sri Lanka, we should consider your feeling. What we do there, we should understand there is another set of eyes – Indian eyes - watching.
And what about the South China Sea?
There are islands in South China Sea which belong to China. Around the islands, the sea is Chinese under international law. But the rest of the sea is international. International ships have the right to pass through the South China Sea freely. China doesn’t have the right to stop them because there are international seas.