India and China have, this week, held their first ever dialogue on Central Asia, with the talks seen by analysts as a reflection of both countries’ interests to institutionalise their widening engagement as they grapple with often competing interests.

The dialogue, held here on Monday, saw both sides “focussing on the very similar Indian and Chinese approaches to political and economic relationships with Central Asian countries,” the Indian Embassy in Beijing said in a statement issued on Wednesday.

“The dialogue,” the Embassy added, “reflected the growing engagement between the foreign offices of India and China and comes after similar comprehensive dialogues on Africa, West Asia, Afghanistan and counter-terrorism issues”.

The talks covered issues ranging from regional security and counter-terrorism to energy security, officials said. Highlighting the particular importance of energy-related issues in both countries’ engagement with the resource-rich region, the head of the Indian delegation, Joint Secretary (Eurasia) in the Ministry of External Affairs Ajay Bisaria, was joined in the talks with Joint Secretary (Energy Security) Prabhat Kumar.

The dialogue takes place only weeks after India and China were both vying for an oil field deal in Kazakhstan. The Kazakh government awarded the Kashagan deal to the Chinese State-run China National Petroleum Corporation after it blocked the sale of the stake of U.S. firm ConocoPhillips to Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) Videsh.

This dialogue mechanism would help both countries better coordinate their positions and manage their recently competing interests, said Lan Jianxue, a scholar at the China Institute for International Studies (CIIS), a think-tank affiliated with the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

“Now, since we have a China-India Central Asia dialogue mechanism, we can share information and share our common ground on energy exploration and energy cooperation,” he said. “We can unite our efforts, for example, by considering jointly bidding for an oil field or gas field”.

He added, “China and India are the biggest energy consumers and are both buyers. So we have a common ground when it comes to the price of energy and price negotiations. We both have also invested in Central Asia so we need a stable and secure environment there.”

The Central Asia dialogue follows the recent setting up of a dialogue on Afghanistan and consultations on counter-terrorism. The new dialogues, Mr. Lan said, “demonstrate that relations are becoming more and more institutionalised and that we have cooperated very well in the international arena”.

Following the talks, the Indian delegation also met with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cheng Guoping and members of CIIS, the think-tank.

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