New Delhi: India and China on Monday jointly launched a training programme for Afghan diplomats in New Delhi, a move that signalled India-China cooperation going regional and prompted China’s envoy to India Luo Zhaohui to suggest the neighbours extend cooperation to other countries such as Iran, Nepal and Myanmar.

India, on its part, seemed content to try out cooperation with China in Afghanistan for the moment, with foreign minister Sushma Swaraj focussing her comments exclusively on Afghanistan. The decision by India and China to cooperate in Afghanistan was taken during a meeting of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Wuhan in April. That meet was aimed at a reset in ties after the 73-day military standoff between the two countries on Bhutan’s Doklam plateau last year. The India-China cooperation on Afghanistan was seen as a step reduce tensions between the neighbours whose ties are mired in mutual suspicion because of an unsettled border dispute dating back to 1962, as well as other issues.

India and China had “identified Afghanistan as a priority partner and agreed to start by jointly training Afghan diplomats," Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi said in a message read out by Luo.

“The launch of this programme today marks an important step forward. It reflects the closer coordination and cooperation between our two countries on regional affairs and represents a positive development in China-India relations," Wang’s message said.

“It is a testament to the joint aspiration and endeavour of China and India, both being major, responsible developing countries, to contribute to regional peace and stability," he said.

In his own remarks, Luo said India and China shared similar views on the war- torn country, including the need to support an Afghan-led and -owned peace and reconciliation process and fight terrorism.

Foreign minister Sushma Swaraj said India, China were charting ‘a new course’ with the training of 10 Afghan diplomats-

This “China-India Plus cooperation should be extended from Afghanistan to other countries, such as Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives, Iran and Myanmar," Luo said. “We can also join hands under the mechanisms of SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) BIMSTEC (the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) and BCIM (the Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar Forum for Regional Cooperation) to promote regional peace, stability and prosperity," Luo said.

India has been concerned by what it sees as China’s increasing footprint in its periphery in recent years—in countries such as Myanmar, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives, which are considered as lying within India’s sphere of influence in South Asia. In the past, New Delhi has opposed suggestions by countries such as the Maldives and Nepal to include China in SAARC.

India’s foreign ministry did not comment on Luo’s remarks. A person familiar with the developments, however, said there were channels between the two countries to discuss such cooperation. Once India and China discussed them at such forums, they could be identified and agreed upon for concrete action, the person said.

Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj in her speech expressed happiness that India and China were charting “a new course" with the training of 10 Afghan diplomats.

“This marks the beginning of what we visualize as a long term trilateral partnership for the benefit of Afghanistan," she said.

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