[The Institute of South Asian Studies from the University of Chengdu organised in Chengdu, December 14-16, the Fifth China-South Asia Cultural Forum. In the conference, Paulo Casaca, SADF’s Executive Director, presented a paper entitled “The merits of regional cooperation. The Himalayas conundrum” and Professor Tomaz Dentinho Ponce, SADF’s Regional Cooperation Programme Director,, presented “Regional cooperation in South Asia, Issues and questions on trade corridors”.
The aim of this essay is to understand the attitudes and values on Trans-Himalayan Cooperation. The approach is to pick up the main thoughts presented in the Fifth China-South Asia Cultural Forum on the topic “Exploring Cooperation across the Himalayas”, to undertake a SWOT Analysis to identify the main issues regarding cooperation and to identify different strategies to address them. Two different strategies were discussed: i) a passive strategy that believes in the economic dynamism of India and China but it is treated by terrorism that can be fuelled by inequality, poverty, stress of water and energy instability; and ii) an active strategy that explores the cooperation opportunities associated with the Trans-Himalayan corridors, with common academic and research capabilities and by challenging water, energy and tourism resources in the mountains.]
By Tomaz Ponce Dentinho and Paulo Casaca
1 – Introduction
The Himalayas are between the two most prominent economic spaces of the XXI century, India and China. The longstanding natural barrier between rich territories and remarkable civilizations, has fed the population with water and soil, filtered the passage for silk and spices, and – through active testimony of local settlers – contributed to the humans’ communication or muteness among themselves and between themselves and the sky. The Himalayas are the wall that opens the door, the barrier that requires the link while providing an opportunity for alternative passages through the sea and the air. Somehow these mountains guarantee the identity of civilizations moulded by relations to the otherness.
For as long as can be remembered those places and passages were shaped by nature, marginally managed by nearby settlers and remote civilizations. Nevertheless globalisation and technology are changing the capacity of those nearby and remote decisions makers, and necessarily their thoughts over those passages and places. What are the main attitudes and values on Trans-Himalayan Cooperation? What are the common values and attitudes that can be the bases for effective cooperation and sustained development?
The aim of this essay is to understand current and growing attitudes and values regarding Trans-Himalayan Cooperation. The approach is to pick up the main thoughts presented in the Fifth China-South Asia Cultural Forum (Chengdu, December 14-16, 2015) on the topic “Exploring Cooperation across the Himalayas” and to undertake an analysis to understand the main perspectives in terms of cooperation and to identify the main common factors and values that can guide effective cooperation.
Point 2 provides a summary of the main thoughts presented in the Fifth China-South Asia Cultural Forum. In Point 3 selects thoughts to analyse within a SWOT framework and presents the results. Point 4 derive alternative cooperation strategies and in Point 5 the explore the prospective effects of those strategies on cooperation and development.
2 – The Fifth China-South Asia Cultural Forum
The Institute of South Asian Studies of Sichuan University organised the Fifth China-South Asia Cultural Forum in Chengdu, China, on the 15th December 2015, involving around fifty scholars, students, experts and stakeholders from China, India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, Singapore, Bangladesh and Europe. It included five speeches in the Opening Session, six comments in the Closing Session and twenty seven presentations organized into five themes: Conceptualization of Trans-Himalaya Cooperation; Political and Security Cooperation; Trans-national infrastructural development and economic cooperation; and Cultural Exchanges and Educational Cooperation.
Common assets of Trans – Himalayan peoples, paths and places
The Opening Session recalled a set of common assets shared by Trans – Himalayan peoples, paths and places. There is a long history of cooperation across the Himalayas (1), a cooperation that took place around the Silk Road where peace, harmony and friendship could thrive (2), a cooperation that should be reinforced in the XXI century, the century of Asia; cooperation in energy, water, transportation (3) and education (4).
Nevertheless, as recalled by Huang Renwei (5), there are non-cooperation traps and if those traps are not faced it is difficult to cooperate fruitfully. Firstly, there are political and security issues often associated to land disputes; secondly, it is not clear what can be done regarding water, energy and commercial capabilities; and, finally, there is still an unknown space of cooperation much beyond the cooperation paradigms of the industrial era; this is definitely the time to share different perspectives on Trans-Himalayan cooperation.
Conceptualization of Trans-Himalaya Cooperation.
According to Li Mingjiang (6) there are various models of regional cooperation that can be adopted to overcome the threats and explore the opportunities of Trans – Himalayan Cooperation: 1) The ASEAN model joint countries that complement each other; it is very much institutionalised through a multitude of meetings and it is recognised in the world forum. 2) The Central Asia Model that moves around the China and Russia Consortium and within which different partners adapt themselves. 3) The One Belt – One Road Model where China takes the lead no matter what India does. 4) The China –ASEAN Model stimulates the participation of local governments; and, as explained by Paulo Casaca (7), the European Model that, to avoid conflict, promote cooperation around agriculture, trade, water, energy, transport, with a major focus on understanding each other’s interests.
When issues arise concerning water, energy and commercial capabilities Khalid Radman (8) pointed out that diversity is reflected in society, that humans cannot live in isolation, and that technology reduces time and space and changes peoples’ perceptions. Therefore there is a lot to be taught and implemented regarding cooperation on water, energy, rail and road networks, trade, software and education.
Nevertheless the wisdom of cooperation learned from history have to cope with the challenges of future cooperation namely by building a common understanding of security (9), talking and finding a common ground for peace and cooperation. As stressed by Leela Paudyal (10) the common enemy is malnutrition and poverty.
Cooperation on a New Security Paradigm.
In fact there is a lot to talk about. ISIS is grouping in Afghanistan creating more potential instability and there is a third generation of extremists that create problems within all the countries of the world (11). To deal with these threats there is an urgent need to promote a New Security Paradigm (12), doing a better job in terms of equity, look more carefully on the issues of water (13), eradicating poverty that supports radicalization (14), facing the challenges of instability, climate change, and favouritism (15), as well as cooperation in disaster relief and experience sharing (16).
Cultural Exchanges and Educational Cooperation.
Today it is possible to look at each other differently. 1) We need to change taboos that classify others; 2) We need to pay attention to food security; 3) We need to be objective. In a survey undertaken by different people from China and Bangladesh there were no major differences regarding attitudes and values related to individualism, indulgence, power dispute; the only difference is that the Chinese have more long term perspectives and risk takers (17).
With common values and attitudes it is possible to integrate research with teaching and there are very good capabilities regarding both (18), by establishing a platform for higher education programs (19), by exploring common culture as a catalyst for cultural relations (20), by enhancing the role of the gateways in Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan (21), by exploring cooperation in health and education (22), by sharing history (23) and by stimulating people to people relations (24).
Trans-national infrastructural development and economic cooperation.
Trade between India and China is nowadays very limited compared with the XVIII century. In fact for more than 200 years India reverted its interests to the sea and reduced trade and cooperation in the Continent; on the other hand the rise of maritime empires and coastal areas represents the destruction of most of the internal routes and the isolation of each country regarding their continental neighbours. Before that China and India were complementary, there was a silk and a cotton road, borders were less important than links and time solved the border issues. Actually History and Geography are not the only things that are important and trade is done by humans not territories. Those were thoughts presented by Ravi Mishram (25).
Notwithstanding this there is some disbelief in India regarding the one-belt/one road program; although there aren’t clear road networks (26), the one-road could eventually open Tibet to Bhutan and India to China (27). Furthermore there is not enough understanding of the geological risks of those roads and some local governments have concerns about the benefits of the corridors (28). In fact the more important barriers to trade are institutional and not infrastructural (29) consubstantiated in protectionism, trade taxes and corruption (30).
And yet, there is the pilgrim’s path to improve links for China with India through Nepal and possibly Bhutan (31) and the Indian government talks about the construction of a community of common destiny (32).
In fact this is the time for Trans-Himalayan cooperation by promoting across the Himalayas a league of Universities, a league of health professionals, a league of media experts and an agreement on water sharing; by doing so research on Himalayan issues will foster: cooperation and prosperity in the region and across the region and a cycle of stability, cooperation and sustainable development.
3 – SWOT Analysis on Trans-Himalayan Cooperation
Most of the strengths highlighted are timeless: there is a long history of cooperation between spaces that complement each other that can increase due to the on-going dynamism of China and India.
Those timeless strengths can relativize concerns on equity and poverty that, sooner or later, may be solved by the on-going economic dynamism and, once more, not foregoing the opportunities of regional cooperation.
Nevertheless the threats of terrorism are there and they are difficult to address without a common understanding for new security measures across the Himalayans. We need to do a better job in terms of equity and growth, looking more carefully at water issues and eradicating poverty and favouritism.
There are no major differences in peoples’ attitudes and values. There is a long history of cooperation across the Himalayas; The XXI Century is the century of Asia; China and India are complementary.
Mountains are difficult for natural and non-natural reasons; The common enemy is malnutrition and poverty; Poverty facilitates radicalization; We should do a better job in terms of equity; Instability, climate change, and favouritism; The more important barriers to trade are institutional.
New frontiers of cooperation and New Security Paradigms; The Himalayans have crucial resources on tourism; Cooperation is a crucial contribution for peace and development; Tibet is the gateway to China in relation to India; Small actors can help to facilitate cooperation; People to people relations; The one-belt/one road program; There is the pilgrim’s path to improve; All value chains have opportunities; Himalayan Leagues of Universities, Health, Media and Water; A forum that can implement stability and development in the region.
Lack of common understanding of security across the Himalayans; No political trust and lack of mitigation in territorial disputes; Environmental issues; Food security; Terrorism; Water stress in China, India and Pakistan.
4 – Cooperation strategies
There are two implicit strategies for the different actors across the Himalayans.
The first one is more passive and it is based on the timeless resources of the region assuming that those capabilities will be naturally potentiated by the on-going dynamism of India, China and all the East. This strategy does not consider the threats of terrorism that are fuelled by inequality, poverty, stress of water and energy instability.
The second strategy is more active and tries to explore the existing cooperation opportunities: a) the opportunity to develop the Himalayan countries and regions associated with the creation of Trans-Himalayan corridors; b) the opportunity to promote cooperation with academic and research projects; c) the opportunity to implement effective projects on tourism (religious and mountain), on water and on energy.
5 – Trans Himalayan Research Network
The Himalayas are between the most prominent economic spaces of the XXI century. This requires joint research efforts that can gather and generate effective knowledge for fruitful cooperation and sustainable development across the Himalayans. The purpose is to generate research and knowledge to promote effective cooperation and sustainable development across the Himalayans and around the World.
This can be based on a set of Research Meetings focused on issues related to the cooperation and sustainable development across the Himalayas including results, such as: Exchange of lecturers, researchers and post graduate students, development of academic curricula and text books and articles or scientific journals. The most important element is the multiplication of personal contacts that could interact and promote cooperation on infrastructures, trade, education, health, tourism, water and energy.