Beijing: India and China on Wednesday discussed a road map for future ties as the latter prepares for a generational change in its leadership later this year, with India inviting increased Chinese investments in infrastructure.
Foreign minister S.M. Krishna said after a 45-minute meeting with Chinese vice-premier Li Keqiang, tipped to be the successor of Premier Wen Jiabao, that he was “confident that India-China relations will continue on their current upward trajectory under the new leadership of China”.
“We discussed the bigger picture, the vision vice-premier has for India-China relations, and what he feels and believes to be the agenda for the next decade...that way I feel very encouraged,” Krishna said, adding he had invited Li to visit India.
A file photo of foreign minister S.M. Krishna.
“I conveyed to him that our relations with China are a priority in India’s foreign policy... It is important to continue building better understanding and trust between us since that will help maintain a strong and healthy relationship between India and China.”
The Krishna-Li talks are part of India’s efforts to reach out to China’s new leadership that is expected to take office early next year. In 2010, Indian President Pratibha Patil met Chinese vice-president Xi Jinping during a visit to China. Xi is expected to replace President Hu Jintao during the leadership change.
The Asian nations have shared uneasy ties, but are working on stabilizing their relationship. Ties between the two have been mired in suspicion and distrust—a legacy of their brief, but bitter 1962 border conflict. Countless rounds of talks to settle the dispute between the two sides have not resulted in demarcation of the frontier.
As it stands, China claims 90,000 sq. km of Indian territory in Arunachal Pradesh and occupies around 38,000 sq. km in Jammu and Kashmir. Also, under the China-Pakistan “boundary agreement signed in March 1963, Pakistan illegally ceded 5,180 sq. km of Indian territory in PoK (Pakistan-occupied Kashmir) to China”, Krishna told Parliament two years ago.
In a recent statement, India’s national security adviser Shivshankar Menon had described the boundary question as a “difficult issue” that has remained unsolved.
Krishna said on Wednesday he had briefed Li about India’s drive to attract investments in the infrastructure sector, describing the vice-premier as one of the key people responsible for the “economic destiny of China”. The minister said he had conveyed to Li that India was “willing to create a level-playing field” and “a totally transparent international” bidding and tendering process that will be “fair”.
“It could be very beneficial for Chinese companies to participate in this process,” Krishna said, describing trade and investment as the key driver of the bilateral relationship in the past decade.
Trade between India and China crossed $73 billion (around Rs.4 trillion today) in 2011-12, but India has been concerned about the ballooning trade gap, which was more than $23 billion. “I did convey India’s desire for a balanced trade relationship with China,” Krishna said, adding that Li was “positive in his response. We agreed that for trade to be sustainable, it has to be balanced”.
When asked about China’s apparent opposition to India joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation—the six-member bloc that groups Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan—as a full member, Krishna said, “It was heartening to hear from vice-premier Li that the modalities are being worked out.”
When asked to comment on Chinese concerns about the US’s new military strategy and its efforts to “rebalance” its naval and other military forces towards the Asia-Pacific region and the role the US would like India to play as Washington implements President Barack Obama’s “pivot towards Asia strategy”, Krishna said India’s position was clearly in favour of keeping international waterways safe for trade.
The comment was in the context of Chinese criticism of the US shift of military emphasis to Asia, seeing it as an attempt to fence in China and frustrate Beijing’s territorial claims. The US move comes against the backdrop of concerns among many countries in the region about the rise of China, its military modernization and the disputes over islands in the South China Sea that China claims as its territorial waters in its entirety.
According to Krishna, the Asia-Pacific region contained “international waterways to increase trade among nations and, hence, we will have to look at this from this angle. We have to strengthen that angle and India is willing to work with other countries so that trade relations will get a boost from these waterways”.
A person close to the developments said Krishna’s comments were similar to the position India took when China objected to Indian and Vietnamese companies exploring energy options in the South China Sea. The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity, ruled out linking this with the US military strategy, noting that the minister’s comments were in the context of trade.
Before departing for India on Thursday, Krishna is expected to meet Chinese foreign minister Yang Jiechi.