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June 25, 2012 9:14 am

War of Words Over China and India at President’s Conference

avatar by Ronen Shnidman /

Indian journalist Kapil Komireddi at Israel's President's Conference on June 20. Photo: President's Conference.

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 June 20 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?

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Four China experts joined London-based Indian journalist and foreign policy commentator Kapil Komireddi at an unusually restive panel session June 20. 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, 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 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’s positive characterization of Chinese civilization, wondering aloud if Tibetans would agree with Pines’s 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.

Peking University Professor Wu Zhipan noticeably balked at providing his own opinions regarding the selection and policy formulation process of China’s future leadership, despite the coaxing of panel moderator Tatiana Hoffman, Israeli Channel 2 foreign news editor.

In a seeming response to Prof. Wu’s avoidance of the issue, a Chinese audience member used the Q&A session to state that the CCP’s policy positions were officially made available through the publication of the government’s five-year plan. She claimed that, “Israeli businesses study these plans as a basis for their plans in China.”

However, instead of resolving matters, that comment seemed to perturb Chinese-American Claremont McKenna College Professor and Chinese governance expert Minxin Pei, who asked the audience member point blank if she was a representative sent by the Chinese Embassy in Tel Aviv.

“Serious, intelligent people do not take Chinese government statements seriously,” Pei shot back at the audience member when she answered his question in the affirmative.

After Pei’s comments, Prof. Wu denounced the panel’s treatment of Chinese issues and openly regretted his participation in it.

“I am a scientist,” he told the audience. “I came here to look for funding.” He continued, “Perhaps I cannot answer all of your questions because my English is not so good, but I didn’t come here to be attacked.”

The June 20 plenary session, moderated by Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer, made clear to all that concurrent with China and India’s rise to global prominence, Europe is on the long-term decline. The panel focused in particular on the response of European governments to the continent-wide debt crisis.

Harvard University economic historian Niall Ferguson noted that current stagnation in most major economic trading blocs might be a precursor for larger problems, saying, “We ain’t seen nothing yet. The flash crash [of 2010] will be nothing compared to the next crash.” He laid a large portion of the blame for the European Union’s continued inability to deal with the debt crisis on German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The only feasible solution to the ongoing economic crises in Greece and Spain, he said, would be the increasing federalization of Europe. Germany would have to cover the costs of a Greek sovereign debt default regardless of whether Greece left the Eurozone or decided to stay in it because of the large chunk of Greek debt held by German banks.

Merkel, he said, had shown a failure of leadership by consistently refusing to present the need and inevitability of some German assumption of Greek debt obligations to the German electorate.

“So much of what is going on in Europe rests on a question of psychoanalytic nature with respect to one German woman,” said Ferguson.

Dr. Alan Bollard, governor of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand, shared his institution’s belief that the European Union would “continue to muddle through [in solving the debt crisis and related economic issues] for a long time.”

“Frau Merkel is following the advice of the old Hebrew proverb,” said Bollard, “He who eats until he is sick, must fast until he is well.”

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