National Security Adviser (NSA) Shiv Shankar Menon began his China visit on Sunday, exploring how the two countries could expand both economic and cultural engagement to give the relationship a broader base.
At the talks between the NSA and Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, the two countries also discussed opening up new areas of economic co-operation internationally — specifically, working together in Afghanistan on infrastructure projects and in developing the country's mineral resources.
The two countries “talked about the possibility of cooperating in certain subjects in other countries, whether three-party or four-party collaborative projects in the economic field as well,” Mr. Yang said, speaking to Indian journalists after hour-long discussions.
It is understood that among various proposals looked at by both sides to expand cooperation included a proposal to work together in Afghanistan, where the government has voiced its interest to work with India and China to develop its vast mineral resources. While India has already invested more than $1.3 billion in infrastructure projects and in other areas, China has taken far greater strides in tapping the country's mineral deposits, including a $4 billion bid to develop a copper mine at Aynak.
Expanding trade received particular attention during Sunday's talks. Mr. Yang said the two countries discussed “how to further boost our trade volume and to create even better conditions for mutual investment.”
Trade has come to be viewed as an increasingly important driver of relations by both sides, especially in the light of lingering political mistrust on issues ranging from the long-running border dispute to China's relations with Pakistan. The two countries have targeted reaching $60 billion this year in bilateral trade, which has risen sharply this past decade from a few billion in 2000 to $52 billion in 2008, when China became India's largest trade partner.
“What is more important is that the overall tone [now] is very positive and there is a lot in common between us,” Mr. Yang said. “I believe this visit will pave the ground, to a large extent, to further our strategic partnership.”
Citing greater collaboration on climate change and in multilateral fora, he said the two countries had “enhanced [their] mutual political trust.” “If you look at the G20, or climate change, or BRIC meetings, we actually work very closely together to push forward a common cause; that is, to serve the interests of our respective people, the interests of the developing world, and the interests of mankind as well,” he said.
The two countries have also agreed to increase the frequency of mutual high-level visits. Mr. Menon's visit is the third high-level visit from India to China in as many months. External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna visited Beijing in April, and President Pratibha Patil was here in the last week of May.
Officials on both sides have noted a much improved political atmosphere in 2010, following a year of strains over the long-running border dispute. Last year saw regular reports of incursions by Chinese troops and more aggressive patrolling in disputed areas, while the Chinese government accused India of “stirring up trouble” following Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Arunachal Pradesh.
The Chinese Foreign Minister also stressed the need to expand student exchanges and cultural contact to “further consolidate the social basis” of the relationship. “Given the size of our respective populations, student exchanges and cultural exchanges between our two countries, so far, have not really [been] added too much,” he said.
“There is a lot that we can do. A good beginning has already been made, but we have to really pitch in and do a lot more together.”
Mr. Menon will hold talks with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on Monday. He will also meet State Councillor Dai Bingguo, his counterpart in the negotiations over the long-running boundary dispute.