China downplays bilateral differences ahead of BRICS meet

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrives at Phoenix Airport in Sanya, China on Tuesday to attend the BRICS summit.  

Chinese officials have played down differences with India over defence exchanges and stapled visas ahead of this week's BRICS summit in southern China, saying the two countries would continue talks over the issues but indicating any resolution remained unlikely.

In the lead up to Wednesday's meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Chinese President Hu Jintao in Sanya, in the Hainan province, Chinese officials have told their Indian counterparts that they wanted the focus of talks to remain firmly on multilateral issues and trade, and away from contentious political issues.

Chinese officials stressed they did not want bilateral differences to come in the way of, and deflect attention from, this week's focus on the BRICS summit, which has been billed by the Chinese media as a politically-significant milestone for cooperation between emerging countries. This week's summit, they felt, was not the relevant occasion to seek resolutions to long-pending differences over stapled visas and defence exchanges.

Asked about the two issues, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei on Tuesday only repeated the Chinese government's earlier stated position that it “was ready to work with India to have friendly consultations and properly handle issues relating to people-to-people exchanges.”

“We welcome Prime Minister Singh's attendance to the BRICS leaders' meeting,” Mr. Hong said. “In recent years, China-India relations have achieved a sound development with frequent high-level exchanges and practical cooperation across the board. We have maintained close contact and communication on major international and regional issues.”

Defence exchanges

Chinese officials have, however, privately expressed their intent to resume defence exchanges as quickly as possible. Exchanges have been suspended following China's objection to last July's visit of the then Northern Command chief, B.S. Jaswal. Chinese officials said they were opposed to issuing him a regular visa as he was in charge of the “sensitive” region of Kashmir.

Since then, the two sides have been in a stalemate. With China never formally acknowledging the stapled visa policy to begin with, Indian officials have little expectations of any commitment from Beijing to withdraw the policy, which has been in place since 2008. While officials hope the policy will be quietly withdrawn, their dilemma is how to publicly give reason for resuming the stalled exchanges.

China has not issued stapled visas since November. Indian officials, however, said this did not imply a definitive change in policy, pointing out that there had been few visa applicants in this time. While four journalists from Jammu and Kashmir were granted visas in their passports ahead of Dr. Singh's visit, China has also, in some cases, simply not issued visas to Kashmiri residents.

Chinese officials said they were taken by surprise by India's decision to suspend defence exchanges, suggesting that the Indian reaction was “disproportionate” to their objections. While Chinese officials say it is simply an administrative issue for the two countries to resolve, India has viewed the visa policy as questioning its sovereignty over Jammu and Kashmir, and an indication that China was moving away from its position of neutrality on the Kashmir issue.

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2022 4:57:00 AM |

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