India and China discussed all “perennials” of their engagement, including the border issue and economic ties, in Beijing’s first interaction with the Modi administration, here on Sunday. India described the bilateral meeting between External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, lasting 3 hours and 10 minutes, as a “very productive beginning”.
Wang, according to the MEA spokepserson, said the new Indian government had “injected new vitality into an ancient civilisation”. “He said that the international community was closely following developments in India. The Chinese and Indian dreams have a lot of commonalities, China welcomes the development of India, China supports the development of India, and is ready to engage with the new government of India,” Syed Akbaruddin said.
Sources said an assertive Swaraj put across the NDA government’s position on all issues of significance, from the complex boundary issue to the lopsided trade relations, from Pakistan ties to the nuclear activities, with “candour”, using expressions in Mandarin to welcome Wang and to conclude the meeting.
Swaraj used a mix of Hindi and English to interact with her Chinese counterpart at the meeting, which continued over lunch. The choice of the newly built Jawaharlal Nehru Bhavan, the MEA headquarters, over the traditional Hyderabad House as the venue may have been a conscious one to project a new, modern face. Later, Wang visited the National Museum located opposite the Bhavan.
The MEA spokesperson described the “tone, tenor and trajectory” of the talks as “cordial, useful, comprehensive, covering all important issues, substantive and productive”. Elaborating, Akbaruddin said, “China is a neighbour with whom we share a long border. Our neighbourhood as you are aware is a major focus of the government’s diplomatic engagement. China is also a major economy and our bilateral economic ties are of a significant magnitude. The perennials of India-China engagement are well known… all issues of significance were raised and discussed in a frank manner.”
He asserted that Swaraj also made it clear that while there was a determination to add new content and substance to the relationship, respect for each other’s “sensitivities and aspirations” was “essential for expansion of bilateral relations”. Asked specifically whether Depsang-like situation on the border was discussed, he said: “Nothing of perennial nature was missed out.” He also replied in the affirmative on whether China-Pakistan relations had come up.
On the issue of cooperation on terrorism, MEA joint secretary Gautam Bambawale, who heads the China desk, said, “We already have a joint working group on counter-terrorism, which meets very regularly. Wang appreciated India’s position on terrorist incidents in China.”
On the issue of economic relations, he said, “There was a fairly long discussion. These included specific projects, trajectory of economic ties, potential for tapping opportunities as well as the hurdles being faced in pursuing enhanced economic cooperation.” Bambawale added that the possibility of investment by Chinese firms was discussed.
The MEA said the meeting was also “useful” since it helped draw out “possible opportunities for engagement” during the course of the year at high levels — both in terms of bilateral visits to each other’s countries and meetings on the margins of various meetings that leaders from both countries are likely to participate in. There are at least half-a-dozen engagements in the next seven months where India’s top leadership will be able to meet their Chinese counterparts.
“A Chinese saying goes the journey of a 1,000 miles begins with a single step, and that step was taken today between the new government of India led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Chinese government,” said the MEA spokesperson. The MEA apokesperson said Swaraj also sought an increase in the number of pilgrims for the Kailash Mansoravar Yatra as well as more routes to the holy shrine. She thanked Wang for keeping the cost of the Yatra on the Chinese side constant for the last so many years.
He said no decision has been taken on China’s request for President Pranab Mukherjee’s participation in celebrations marking 60 years of Panchsheel, the five principles of peace proposed by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his Chinese counterpart Zhou Enlai in 1954. On the issue of Chinese support to India for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council, the MEA spokesperson said, “This was largely a meeting of bilateral expanse. Was everything under the sun discussed? No.”