Chinese officials have portrayed the talks as the start of a new chapter in relations
The message from China’s new leadership to India was that both countries should “not let differences and problems stand in the way” of taking the relationship forward, Chinese State Councillor Dai Bingguo told the visiting National Security Adviser, Shivshankar Menon, here on Monday.
Amid persisting political mistrust over the long-running border dispute and more recent spats over passports and visas, Mr. Dai said both countries needed “to prevent noise from diverting friendly cooperation and common development.”
The State Councillor, who is Mr. Menon’s counterpart as the Special Representative on the boundary talks, called on both countries “to have a clear idea about some parties’ intentions of undermining bilateral ties,” without specifying who those parties were.
Mr. Dai said at the start of Monday’s talks that Mr. Menon’s visit had assumed “special and important” significance because of the leadership change in China. “You’re one of the first few foreign leaders we are receiving after the [leadership transition] party congress,” he said.
Playing down problems such as the border issue, Chinese officials portrayed Monday’s talks, which marked New Delhi’s first major engagement with Beijing following last month’s once-in-10-year leadership change, as the start of a new chapter in ties as the fifth generation of the Communist Party’s leadership takes charge.
‘The whole relationship’
“Mr. Menon’s visit is not about the boundary issue [alone]. It is about the whole relationship,” Qin Gang, head of the Foreign Ministry’s Information Department, told reporters.
Mr. Menon held two sessions of talks with Mr. Dai, which officials said covered a broad range of issues from the impact of the leadership transition and bilateral ties to wider strategic issues and the boundary question. He also met with Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.
‘Convergence of views’
“We have seen a lot of convergence of views and shared interests, shared aspirations, shared goals,” Mr. Qin said. “This meeting will send out a strong message that as two neighbours China and India will continue to work for good neighbourly relationship. This meeting is not an occasion where both sides expressed differences on the boundary issue.”
Mr. Dai said China’s policy towards India was “in alignment with the diplomatic thinking” expressed at the party congress. The new leadership, he said, “attaches great importance to relations with India.”
The Chinese State Councillor — a rank below Vice-Premier in the State Council, or Cabinet — will step down as the Special Representative on the border talks when he retires at the Parliament Session in March. He was accompanied at Monday’s talks by Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying. A member of the newly selected Central Committee, she has been seen as one of the candidates to take over his role as the SR in the boundary talks.
Both sides reviewed the progress after 15 rounds of talks, although the perception in New Delhi and Beijing is that little headway has been made since the signing of an agreement on political parameters and guiding principles in 2005.
Mr. Qin said Monday’s talks did not discuss the recent spat over China’s newly issued passports. The inclusion of a map that displayed Arunachal Pradesh, Aksai Chin and the South China Sea as Chinese territory triggered an angry response from India and several of China’s neighbours. New Delhi responded by issuing new visas at its Embassy in Beijing stamped with a map as seen by India.
“The passport issue did not come up,” Mr. Qin said. “We have expressed ourselves very clearly, and Mr. Menon and other senior Indian officials have talked about it… We have fully explained to other parties, including India, and both sides need to work for the smooth travelling of citizens.”
On Tuesday, Mr. Menon is scheduled to meet a senior Chinese leader. Chinese officials said on Monday he was likely to be received by Wu Bangguo, head of the Parliament and earlier the second-ranked member of the outgoing Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC). Officials, however, said last week he was expected to meet with one of the seven members of the newly-selected PBSC to mark the start of India’s engagement with the new leadership.
Mr. Menon was scheduled to give a speech on India-China relations on Tuesday at the release a book of Chinese translations of the work of the eminent Sinologist P.C. Bagchi. However, the Indian Embassy said the function was cancelled because of the seven-day mourning declared in India and Indian Missions abroad to mark the passing away of the former Prime Minister, I.K. Gujral.