Former Indian Ambassador to China, Ashok K Kantha, said enhanced people to people engagement between the Asian neighbours can impart stability in bilateral relations despite differences between them.
At a conference titled "Enhancing India-China People to People Relations" in Chennai, Mr Kantha said China has started describing its contested territorial claims, including with India, as "non-negotiable."
"Management of boundary question becomes more difficult. And Doklam was just the example," he said, referring to the 75-day standoff between the two countries last year.
Doklam will not be the last case when "we run into serious difficulties in the management of this issue," he said.
"Now, looking ahead, what needs to be done, how to deal with an increasingly assertive China... in an uncertain, fluid international environment, this is going to be possibly the biggest challenge in India's foreign policy in years to come," he said.
At the same time, enhanced people to people engagement can be a major positive driver, an element imparting stability in India-China relations, despite all differences, he said. While persisting with and pursuing engagement with China, India should also avoid a binary approach, the former diplomat said.
"We need to adopt a more nuanced approach, proceeding from self-confidence, that we can deal with this country... can catch up with China despite the obvious capability gap," he said, adding India has the endowments to achieve this.
"There is an overhang of differences, and unfortunately in the last two years, there has been public airing of differences on both sides... which has further vitiated public sentiments on both sides," he added.
Unfortunately, the level of engagement between India and China today is "miniscule," he said. Just because there are problems between the two countries, it doesn't mean they cannot move ahead in people to people ties, he said.
He said India had earlier done considerable work on its part to ensure China was included in the countries eligible for e-tourist visa.
"In fact, when it comes to tourist visas and business visas, contrary to popular perception, it is so much more easier for Chinese nationals to get visas to come to India than the other way around," he said.
India and China have progressed in various areas and "we must recognise" and build on these, he said.
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