Remarks by External Affairs Minister, Shri Pranab Mukherjee at the Inauguration of the “India-China Year of Friendship Through Tourism – 2007”
Your Excellency, Mr. Li Zhaoxing,
Minister of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China,
Smt. Ambika Soni, Minister of Tourism and Culture,
Ladies and Gentlemen.
It is matter of great pleasure for me to be here today at the launch of the “India-China Year of Friendship Through Tourism-2007.”
India and China are two great civilizations and friendly neighbours with more than two thousand years of shared contacts. Over the centuries, and across the seas and deserts, our forefathers charted the legendary Silk Route between our two countries. Our two civilizations discovered each other through the tireless efforts of monks and scholars like Xuan Zang, whose memory we have just celebrated at the ceremonial opening of the Hall dedicated to his name in Nalanda in Bihar – a ceremony that was graced by the presence of my distinguished friend and colleague, His Excellency Foreign Minister Li who is here with us today. Taking inspiration from the early travelers who criss-crossed the distances between our two countries in ancient times, today we seek to recreate that pioneering spirit that brought India and China close together through the fostering of our friendship through tourism.
In recent years the all round progress made in India-China relations has been a source of satisfaction. Even while addressing outstanding issues, our decision to promote ties in all other areas of mutual benefit has been paying positive dividends. India and China today share a strategic and cooperative partnership. Our bilateral relations have a significance which is global. We are on course to achieve unprecedented developmental gains and the world is avidly following the unfolding saga of our growth. Both our countries acknowledge and welcome the progress and growth of the other and consider that their respective development will make positive contributions to Asia and the world. Our leadership has affirmed that opportunities for development are vast for both countries and there is enough room for accommodation of both our growth trajectories. As good neighbours and partners in development, we must grow together while remaining sensitive to each other’s concerns and aspirations.
The leadership of India and China has begun regular summit-level meetings and we have intensified high-level exchanges. Our desire to take our bilateral ties to a new level and to engage with each other in a more comprehensive manner is reflected in the Joint Declaration signed recently during the visit of President Hu Jintao to India in November 2006. We have established institutional mechanisms for cooperation in the areas of agriculture, finance, trade, defence, science and technology, energy and education. Soon we are going to increase the diplomatic presence in each other’s countries by opening consulates in Guangzhou and Kolkata. Rapidly expanding trade and deepening economic ties are one of the positives of the improving India-China relationship. Bilateral trade reached US$ 25 billion last year and is well on course to surpass the target of US$ 40 billion by 2010.
Ladies and gentlemen, as two ancient and neighbouring civilizations, the people of India and China are not strangers to each other. Yet, I will not be wrong in saying that today, apart from a small academic and media community in both countries, who have occasions to travel to each other’s country, there is a yawning gap in information about each other in both our countries. We have, so far, fallen short of fostering closer contacts between our peoples, contacts that could enhance mutual understanding and also increase the comfort level between the two sides. This is a challenge our policy makers must address with urgency, clarity and focus.
The decision of our two governments, to strengthen ties through tourism, taken during the visit of President Hu Jintao could not have come at a more opportune time. The Great Wall of China and our Taj Mahal, which are both represented in the Joint Logo that commemorates our Friendship Through Tourism Year, are among the most easily recognizable symbols of travel and tourism the world over. Yet not many from our two countries have seen both. The need of the hour then is to create awareness in our peoples about the two countries as tourist destinations. To this end, a detailed programme of activities has been drawn up jointly to celebrate 2007 as the “Friendship through Tourism Year”. Preparations are already underway to open the China National Tourist Office in India. An Indian Tourist Office is also likely to be operational in China soon. I am confident that these two offices will contribute to strengthening tourism contacts between the two sides. India is truly an incredible and unique tourist destination and we hope that through information dissemination and effective promotional activity we would be able to attract more and more Chinese travelers to India.
With the rise in living standards, both India and China have become impressive sources for outbound tourist traffic. It should be the endeavour of both our governments to encourage our citizens to visit each other’s country. Increased tourist traffic between our two countries will help us rediscover our shared cultural heritage and bring to the fore the instinctive warmth and friendship the people of India and China feel for each other.
It is my sincere hope that this year will see India and China come even closer to each other on the wings of tourism. May the achievements of this year act as a building block and contribute significantly to further strengthening of the ties between two of the world’s greatest tourist destinations. I would like to extend my very best wishes for the resounding success of the Friendship through Tourism Year. Thank you.