This travel journal is coming to an end. I have described almost everything I have seen and done, and it now remains only to pontificate upon The Meaning Of It All.
I have emerged out of China with the realization that the Chinese are not very different from Indians. They too buy fairness creams, watch bad movies, and have an unhealthy link between celebrating and eating. On a more serious note, they have the same motivations we do: to get rich, to make the most of the freedom they do have, and to enjoy the company of their friends and family (more friends than family thanks to population control strictures).
To put it plainly, the Chinese are as human as us. They don’t have a superhuman sense of discipline. The sales director of a Chinese factory isn’t trying to help China conquer the world, he’s just trying to make his sale. The same way the Indian one is.
About two years ago, I had written rude and mocking things about Track II diplomacy and people-to-people contacts. At that time, it was about a Youth Initiative for Peace thingummy being organised in Pune, with twenty students from Pakistan and twenty from India being invited to meet each other. Back then I had called it naive and idealistic (though admittedly I was doing so mostly to irritate my brother).
Now that I’ve returned from China, have I changed my mind? Am I now convinced that people-to-people contacts are important and useful ways to bring countries whose relations have deteriorated closer together?
Hell no. In fact, the realisation that people are the same actually makes me more convinced of the utter uselessness of people-to-people contacts.
Don’t get me wrong. People-to-people contacts are great for people. They’ll make new friends, get insights into a new culture, and generally feel good about it. The relationship between the people will improve.
But what about the relationship between the countries? You still need old-fashioned diplomacy for that, I’m afraid. In fact, given that people are the same, strained relations between countries must be the result of fundamental differences in culture, or the nature of the respective states or governments. That sort of thing needs to be addressed at the level of the governments and states, not at the level of individual citizens. In fact, for countries like India and Pakistan where the vast majority of citizens have little or no influence on their governments, expecting people contacts to result in diplomatic benefits is especially futile.
So, if you want to go and meet someone from another country, more power to you. But don’t expect it to magically yield diplomatic dividends.