By Ronen Shnidman
JointMedia News Service
JERUSALEM (JNS) — While Europe is doomed, the world’s two most populous nations are jockeying for influence in the Middle East and trying to sway Israel into their respective camps.
Those were two takeaways from the June 19-21 “Facing Tomorrow” conference sponsored by Israeli President Shimon Peres, where economics and foreign policy experts did not restrain themselves from taking potshots at major world leaders—and each other.
A panel discussion Wednesday provided a potentially potent harbinger of a future battle for influence in the Middle East between China and India.
Attended by more than 5,000 people from around the world, “President’s Conference: Facing Tomorrow” aimed to answer one major question: How can we foster a better tomorrow for the international community, Israel and the Jewish world?
Four China experts joined London-based Indian journalist and foreign policy commentator Kapil Komireddi at an unusually restive panel session Wednesday. Preemptively setting the tone of the discussion, Komireddi penned an op-ed published Haaretz that morning advocating that Israel seek to forestall Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons by directly requesting that the Indian government play a mediating role in international negotiations with the government in Tehran.
In a pre-panel interview with JNS, Komireddi spoke of shared Israeli and Indian values and modern post-colonial history as an important foundational basis for the future deepening of strategic relations between the two countries.
Komireddi told JNS that “Israel has a tremendous fund of goodwill in India,” and that it was time that the Jewish State “cashed that in.” Of particular note, Komireddi emphasized the importance of what he described as the clandestine aid provided by Israel to India during the country’s 1962 border war with China, as well as its conflicts with Pakistan in 1965 and 1971.
During his panel talk, Komireddi suggested tongue in cheek that Israelis could further develop ties with India by adopting cricket as a national sport, calling it “the most recognizably Jewish of sports” for all who play it.
However, Komireddi didn’t limit himself to advancing the cause of an Israeli-Indian alliance, but also criticized those who look to a Communist Party-led China to exert a positive influence on global affairs. In particular, Komireddi attacked the panel’s only Israeli participant, Hebrew University Professor of East Asian Studies Yuri Pines, as being an apologist for the Chinese government.
The increasingly prominent position of China and its economy will “allow countries to choose between different development models,” Pines said during his panel talk. He said, “The new century will be a more pluralistic world. A world with more choices.”
Pines noted that historically, Chinese civilization was “never a missionary society” that sought to proselytize and force its culture and political system on neighboring countries. Komereddi took umbrage at Pines’ positive characterization of Chinese civilization, wondering aloud if Tibetans would agree with Pines’ description of China as a non-proselytizing culture and power. Pointing to China’s 1951 annexation of Tibet—a traditional issue of concern among Indian policymakers—and its Han settlement policy in China’s far western provinces, Komereddi said in a barbed comment that he would be “very wary of praising Communist China.”
The off-topic mention of Tibet unleashed a Pandora’s box of political grandstanding among both panel participants and audience members. A young Chinese student in Israel, whose name could not be verified, responded to the Tibet issue by using the audience Q&A session to state for all present in unequivocal terms that successive Chinese governments and representatives of Han Chinese culture have been present in Tibet for “over 2,000 years.”
Later on, the panel broached the issue of the difficulty of predicting the future political and policy orientation of China’s leadership, due to the closed nature of policy discussions of the CCP leadership and the selection process for the next generation of senior CCP leaders.