Huang Hua, a veteran Chinese statesman and former Vice-Premier who played a key role in helping normalise relations between China and India in the 1980s, passed away in Beijing on Wednesday. He was 98.

Mr. Huang, who was a Communist revolutionary in the 1930s and served as a translator to Mao Zedong, is regarded by many here as modern China's most important diplomat. He played a significant role in thawing China's frosty relations with the Soviet Union in the 1970s, and also in the secret negotiations with Henry Kissinger in the lead-up to U.S. President Richard Nixon's historic 1972 visit to China.

Mr. Huang was the face of China's foreign policy during the turbulent seventies and eighties, serving as Premier Zhou Enlai's right-hand man. He was sent to New Delhi by the former leader, Deng Xiaoping, in 1981; a landmark visit seen as an important milestone as India and China worked to normalise ties which had been left frozen after the 1962 war.

“He played a key role in pushing forward the normalisation process,” said Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy, who received Mr. Huang when he landed in New Delhi in June 1981 and met him on three separate occasions, in both India and China, in 1981 and 1982.

Following the then External Affairs Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's breakthrough visit to Beijing in 1979, the two countries were looking for a way to push relations forward amid the deadlocked border dispute. Mr. Swamy was invited to China by Deng in April 1981, at a time when there was little contact between the two sides. He was received there by Mr. Huang, who he described as a “gregarious and jovial” diplomat. Deng would dispatch him to New Delhi only two months later, where he would play a key role in the thawing that followed.

“During the official lunch after he arrived in Delhi, he spoke of both sides accepting the border issue as a problem, but settle it in time” and focus on seeking common ground on other issues, Mr. Swamy recalled.

“This whole process of normalising relations began with that meeting at Hyderabad House,” he said.

Mr. Huang also served as China's representative to the United Nations in the early 1970s. In 1971, he was involved in secret talks with Mr. Kissinger in a CIA safe-house in New York, during which the then U.S. National Security Adviser famously sought to entice China to attack India amid the on-going war with Pakistan, hinting that the U.S. would not interfere if Beijing chose to do so.

During the next decade, however, Mr. Huang would lead China's efforts to diffuse tensions with the Soviet Union as well as engage with India, two endeavours he chronicled in detail in his memoirs, which were published two years ago.

Reviewing his memoirs, Lin Wusun, a former president of the China International Publishing group, wrote that the chapter Mr. Huang devoted to India was a reflection of his belief that “there existed deep sympathy between the Chinese and Indian people, so despite the border dispute, common interests really far surpass differences.”

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