China's presence in PoK and India's oil exploration in South China Sea should not be mixed up, says top official

Describing the India-China ties as enjoying a “good moment in recent times,” Sun Weidong, Beijing's chief point man for relations with New Delhi, said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's 20 meetings with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao had helped to introduce several confidence-building measures.

But disagreements continued over China's presence in the Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (PoK) and India taking up oil exploration in the South China Sea, with Mr. Sun cautioning against mixing up the two issues.

Talking to Indian journalists here, a week before the commencement of the BRICS summit in New Delhi, he did not shy away from addressing questions on both issues, which were posed as a package to a high-ranking Chinese official for the first time.

He also touched on the presence of the Dalai Lama in India and expressed the hope that New Delhi would prevent his followers from making political demands.

“Good beginning”

Mr. Sun, Deputy Director-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, described the mid-January talks on the border issue as a good beginning, which was followed by the setting up of a multi-ministerial joint mechanism to sort out irritants.

Mr. Sun, as also Indian Ambassador in Beijing S. Jaishankar, the Commerce Ministry's Liang Wentao and Liu Youfa of the China Institute of International Studies, suggested that issues relating to trade balance being heavily skewed in China's favour was more nuanced and complex than the dominant Indian narrative of an unenthusiastic Beijing averse to taking initiatives to correct the imbalance.

Both sides, however, hope that these points of discord, which are amplified to near hysterical proportions by a large section of the Indian media and Chinese nationalist publications like The Global Times, will occupy lesser space owing to a greater number of confidence-building measures agreed upon by the two countries.

Describing India's oil exploration in a part of the South China Sea claimed by both China and Vietnam as “different” from Chinese involvement in the PoK, Mr. Sun said the former was “very complex” and involved many parties. China was trying to discuss the issue with other countries with overlapping claims. In PoK, China's “only focus” was on the development of the local economy. “It doesn't mean” that China had ratified Pakistan's claim to the territory, which is also claimed by India. “The dispute [over the PoK] is between India and Pakistan. So, whenever there are disputes or tensions, China will not be judgmental.”

“Therefore, I don't think they should be mixed,” he reasoned, when asked that if both issues were to be addressed through dialogue, China would stay out of the PoK as it did not want Indian involvement in oil exploration in the disputed portions of the South China Sea.

Mr. Sun did not think the Dalai Lama was only a spiritual leader, a point endorsed by Mr. Liu, and said the status of Tibet was a settled issue between India and China. “India has committed that Tibet is an autonomous region, which is part of the People's Republic of China, and will not allow any forces to conduct anti-China activity.”

“In 2008, the Indian side made a lot of efforts [in the run-up to Beijing Olympics when the Tibetans tried to disrupt the movement of the Olympic Torch]. We hope they will continue such a policy and adhere to their commitment [of not allowing the Tibetans to use India as a springboard for dissent], so that we can enjoy good relations. There should not be any question about the Tibet issue. It's about Dalai Lama.”

On the border talks, of which 15th round was held in India this January, Mr. Sun ducked a question whether a permanent solution would involve both sides making “adjustments” (a give and take of territory), but hoped it would eventually be resolved, especially since both sides agreed on some critical parameters, like a political framework, owing to some “very hard work” that took nearly nine years.

More In: National | News