The CASS India-China Relationship Seminar in Pune: An Intellectual Treat

Intellectual firepower outside the Delhi seminar circuit is rather impoverished. When a high powered start cast featuring a former Foreign Secretary and a retired Lt. General speak in a India-China seminar on contemporary issues projected on the future, there is ample food for thought along with good Thali lunch and neat chai breaks for networking. The national security driven seminar started off with the national anthem and concluded with the national song. The day long seminar was organised by AM Bhushan Gokhale ji’s Centre for Advanced Strategic Studies or CASS, Indian Council for World Affairs or ICWA and Maharashtra Education Society with The Tilak Chronicle as the digital media partner.

Former top diplomat Mr. Vijay Gokhale spoke on the uselessness of the term neighborhood. Russia interferes in America’s backyard in Venezuela and America in the South China Sea, which is China’s neighborhood. China preaches but hardly walks the talk regarding respecting international norms. It has a massive issue when India and Vietnam drill for oil in the South China Sea.   He conveyed the need for more capacity on China including language. He spoke about historic mistakes in resolving the boundary situation with China. I loved his elegance in thought and articulation.

Dr. Ajit Ranade, the Marketplace Economist peppered his almost extemporaneous speech with interesting data-points such as consumption to GDP ratios for China to India; 33 percent to 70 percent. Of course the sheer size of the economy varies. He also made the audience aware the a weak rupee is not necessarily bad. And that the Covid scare is a temporary disruption. He also emphasized the value of Africa, and how Africa remains amiss from our policy conversations. We need to pay greater focus on Africa. He was rather impressed with the Chinese Developmental Model. 

Lt. General Pravin Bakshi made a passionate call to arms for an armed forces which can afford strategic options rather the one at present where the options palate seems to have shrunk. He narrated the Dokhlam/Dolam Plateau strategy and how India won the episode. China respects strength he uttered in an obvious , in the face manner. He painted a picture concerning Civilian-Military ties in the country. Where does the military stop, and the diplomats take over. He also presented a primer on boundary management and the various agencies who look after the border, often overlooking the frontier states. 

Commander Das spoke on maritime capacity building and how naval assets and infrastructure should be designated as national assets. He touched upon the importance of marine sonics for securing the Indian Ocean Region. The tech focus in the national security agenda was a welcome breach in a pure political and economic narrative. 

There were other researchers and diplomats who added depth to the dialogue by touching upon important subjects such as OBOR (by researcher Namrata Hasija) and Hong Kong protests. The audience was an eclectic mix of serving military officers and ex diplomats with career academics and liberal arts students. And there are were career wonks such as me to pick up the drift of where the Track Two narrative is heading as these spaces of deliberation are much better than 9 pm debates. The point of departure, from this event will be to study China more holistically and learn the language. My cousin read Mandarin for his undergraduate program at Shantiniketan and later on studied in Taiwan on a scholarship. This has put him in good stead in life including acting in Taiwanese films as the token diversity candidate to presently leading the APAC Practice for an American Tech Multinational. The power of language manifests in rather material terms. 

The audience was quite animated, and eager to ask questions to the various experts. When face time is limited, every one seeks to learn a thing or two. 

This seminar was a handy window to engage with the realm of ideas in the life of India, which in the TikTok era is rare.