India's new Ambassador to China Ashok Kantha on Monday officially began his term in the Chinese capital, holding his first meetings in the Foreign Ministry in Beijing.

Mr. Kantha, a Mandarin-speaking career diplomat, who served in Hong Kong between 2000 and 2003 and was later in charge of the East Asia division at the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi, presented a copy of his credentials to Zhang Kunsheng, Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister, on Monday afternoon, the Indian Embassy in Beijing said in a statement.

Mr. Kantha "expressed his determination to work with the Chinese government to maintain the present momentum in the relationship and enhance it in all areas," the statement said.

India and China have agreed to mark the coming year as a "Year of Friendly Exchanges", which will see mutual visits by youth delegations as well as programmes held to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the signing of the "five principles of peaceful coexistence".

Among the challenges facing Mr. Kantha are a widening trade imbalance, maintaining stability along the disputed border, and more immediately, crafting a course for bilateral relations against the backdrop of an influx region. India has, so far, maintained a studied silence over rising tensions between China and Japan over the disputed East China Sea, while disputes between China and more than 10 countries over the

South China Sea continue to fester.

Mr. Kantha has already been a key figure in crafting India's diplomacy in the region, serving as the Head of the East Asia Division of the MEA between 2003 and 2007.

Prior to that assignment, he was posted as the Consul General of India to Hong Kong and Macau between 2000 and 2003.

Mr. Kantha served as Secretary to the Government of India at the MEA until this month, and has also served as the High Commissioner in Sri Lanka over a four-year term.

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