China, India can’t get past differences over Kashmir

China, India can’t get past differences over Kashmir

New Delhi: Existing faultlines over territorial issues have prevented India from taking the leap forward in ties ties with giant neighbour China, unlike it has with other countries including the US.

A joint communique issued after talks between visiting Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and his counterpart Manmohan Singh made no mention of Tibet, for the first time in several years, or Kashmir. China regards Tibet as its territory and has been keen that India acknowledge this, given that the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, has been living in India since 1959.

Kashmir, the Himalayan territory that’s divided between India and Pakistan, is regarded by India as its territory.

Foreign secretary Nirupama Rao urged reporters not to read too much into the omissions, noting that Tibet did come up in the discussions. “Wen Jiabao spoke about it and we reiterated our position, the position that we have always stated," Rao said. “They understand our position. Premier Wen said they appreciated our position of not allowing anti-China political activities on our soil."

India is home to some 200,000 Tibetan exiles besides the Dalai Lama. Some of them have been out on the streets of Delhi during Wen’s visit, protesting what they regard as Chinese occupation of their country.

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An official close to the talks said Tibet was kept out of the statement as India has been upset by the recent change in China’s position on Kashmir. This has included issuing stapled visas to residents of Kashmir as opposed to stamped ones and refusing a visa for a senior Indian general in charge of the region. India has also been upset by Chinese companies involved in infrastructure projects in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

Rao said Wen himself had brought up the stapled visa issue but signalled the problem was pending resolution. India was told that “China takes this issue very seriously and takes our concern on this issue very seriously".

“The ball is in their court. There is no doubt about that," she said, adding, Wen advocated that officials of both sides “should have in-depth consultations so that the issue is resolved."

In previous exchanges, Indian officials said they had told China about the need to be sensitive to Indian concerns and that Kashmir is to India what Tibet is to China.

Wen’s three-day state visit, which began Wednesday, was being seen as a fence-mending exercise.

“I believe with our joint efforts, through the visit, we’ll be able to raise our friendship and cooperation to a high level in the new century," Wen said at a ceremonial welcome at Rashtrapathi Bhavan on Thursday morning.

Wen’s comments were echoed by Singh, who said “a strong partnership between India and China will contribute to long-term peace, stability, prosperity and development in Asia and the world", as he opened delegation-level talks with the Chinese premier.

But the communique made it clear that the other key dispute between India and China—their unsettled border—too had eluded solution. “Pending the resolution of the boundary question, the two sides shall work together to maintain peace and tranquillity in the border areas in line with the previous agreements," the statement said.

However, in a bid to increase contacts between the top leadership in both countries, India and China have set up a telephone hotline between the two prime ministers, the statement said. It became operational “three-four days ago", Rao said. “Such personal interactions are a very important part of diplomacy, particularly between countries like India and China who are driving many changes in the global order today," she added.

The statement made no reference to November 2008 Mumbai attacks that India says was planned by militant groups based in Pakistan—China’s ally. However, the statement did refer to the need to implement all relevant UN resolutions that deal with curbing the financing of terrorism and banning of terror groups.

On trade, the two countries set themselves a trade target of $100 billion (Rs 4.54 trillion) by 2015 as they “agreed to further broadbase and balance trade and economic cooperation, and identify new opportunities to realize the vast potential for future growth", the statement said.

On India’s efforts to garner support to become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), the joint communique said: “China attaches great importance to India’s status in international affairs as a large developing country, understands and supports India’s aspiration to play a greater role in the United Nations, including in the Security Council." This marks a change from the earlier position that China would hold talks with India on UNSC reforms.