Krishna meets Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang to discuss agenda for the next decade

External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna on Wednesday discussed the future of India's relations with China with the Chinese leader widely expected to become the country's next Premier, seeking closer economic ties with Beijing but also engaging with new challenges facing the relationship such as the South China Sea and the changing security situation in the Asia-Pacific.

Mr. Krishna said he told Vice Premier Li Keqiang, who he described as a leader who is “going to assume greater responsibilities,” that India attached “the utmost importance and high priority” to its relations with China.

“We discussed the bigger picture, and the vision that the Vice Premier has for the India-China relationship and what he believes to be the agenda for the next decade. So I think it was like a peep into the future.”

Mr. Li revealed for the first time that he had visited India when he was a member of the Communist Youth League, in 1985. “India is not the same as it was in 1985, so I am looking forward to his visit at a convenient time,” Mr. Krishna said.

The External Affairs Minister, here to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit, where India has been an observer since 2005, said he indicated India's desire to be a full-fledged member of the six-member security grouping. “It was indeed very heartening to hear from Vice Premier Li that the modalities of admitting new members is being worked out, the process is on,” he said. “We have moved in a more positive direction of finalising the modalities.” Among the modalities, Indian officials said, was agreeing on a third working language for the grouping, which now deals in Chinese and Russian.

Asked about comments made by a senior Chinese official who ruled out a timetable for granting membership and called on members to “work hard,” Mr. Krishna said, “We are working indeed very hard to comply with the modalities. We have shown our seriousness, otherwise nobody would be coming to attend these meetings since 2005. This is my third meeting as foreign minister of a huge county like India.”

Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan, which was appointed an observer to the group on Wednesday, were, however, represented at the summit by their Presidents. Mr. Krishna, however, said that the “lot of strength” that India brought when it joined a grouping “will have to be evaluated.”

Mr. Krishna said he courted Chinese investment in the “massive expansion of our infrastructure development,” and addressed Chinese concerns on perceptions that security threats were hindering the entry of Chinese companies. Mr. Krishna said India was “willing to create a level playing field and total transparency in terms of international bidding, evaluation and then ultimately decision-making.” He also stressed that trade had to be more balanced, with the deficit reaching a record $ 27 billion last year.

When asked about Chinese concerns on the U.S. “pivot” to Asia – the visit of Defence Secretary Leon Panetta to New Delhi has been closely followed by the Chinese media – Mr. Krishna stressed that India had a stake in the Asia-Pacific. China has expressed concerns over India's cooperation with Vietnam in the disputed South China Sea.

“India's position is very clear that these are all international waterways to increase trade among nations, and hence we will have to look at it from that angle,” he said. “We have to strengthen that angle. India is ready to do that with other countries so that trade relations will get a boost through these waterways.”

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