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Ahead of PM’s visit, India-China irritants to the fore

Suhasini Haidar NEW DELHI: 13 May 2015 02:48 IST
Updated: 02 April 2016 23:00 IST

MEA protests PoK infrastructure; Chinese daily brings up Arunachal, border issues

India has lodged a protest against China’s announcement of infrastructure projects in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar said on Tuesday. Although Mr. Jaishankar did not say when the protest was made, he said the External Affairs Ministry had spoken to Chinese Ambassador Le Yucheng in Delhi, and India’s Ambassador to Beijing Ashok Kantha had indicated India’s upset to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs there.

This is the first time the government has announced publicly that it had reacted to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Pakistan visit on April 20, where he had announced a $46-billion package to construct infrastructure, including highways and hydel power projects along the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor through PoK to the Gwadar port in Balochistan.

In reply to a Parliament question on May 6, Minister of State V.K. Singh had only said that the “government keeps a constant watch on all developments having a bearing on India’s security and takes all necessary measures to safeguard it.”

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The Foreign Secretary’s comments came on a day when China’s Global Times newspaper, said to be allied to the Communist Party, published a scathing editorial ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit entitled, “Can Modi’s visit upgrade Sino-Indian ties?”, accusing the government of playing “little tricks” on the border dispute, and criticising the Prime Minister’s visits to Arunachal Pradesh, that China claims, and calling on India to “stop all support to the Dalai Lama.”

Signing of pacts

While the government took no notice of the editorial, the remarks in Delhi and Beijing indicate that irritants in bilateral ties are being aired just ahead of Mr. Modi’s three-day visit to China, when he is expected to sign a number of agreements.

He will also be given a warm welcome by Mr. Xi who will travel to meet Mr. Modi in his native town of Xian on May 14, which is a rare break from precedent for Chinese leaders, and comes as a reciprocal gesture for Mr. Modi’s reception in Ahmedabad for the President and his wife last September.

Officials did not confirm the exact number and nature of bilateral agreements that will be signed in Beijing on May 15, but they are expected to include Chinese investment for railway projects and a railway academy in India, maritime research cooperation and one on sharing data on transboundary rivers.

Extension of e-visa

India could also announce the extension of e-visa to China, a long-standing demand from the Chinese government, and the Home Affairs and External Affairs Ministries have been meeting for the past few weeks on liberalising the visa and security restrictions imposed on Chinese nationals. Two Chief Ministers, Gujarat’s Anandiben Patel and Maharashtra’s Devendra Fadnavis, will accompany the Prime Minister for a conference of State and Provincial heads, to discuss enhancing trade and cooperation with Chinese provinces.

Mr. Jaishankar said the resolution of the border issue was “bound to be discussed” when the two leaders met, with some indications from different sources that they could consider upgrading border communication and infrastructure to enhance the Border Defence Cooperation Agreement that was last upgraded in September 2013. In remarks, both countries signalled a softened approach, following the meeting of Special Representatives, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and State Councillor Yang Jiechi, in February. The leaders indicated a determination to put behind the Chumar incident of alleged violations by the PLA into India during Mr. Xi’s visit to India last year that had significantly dented the visit’s atmosphere.

‘Difficult’ part of ties

In an interview to the India Today weekly, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said the boundary question was a “difficult” part of relations, but to “settle the question as early as possible was the historical responsibility that falls on both governments; it also represents the shared aspiration of the two peoples.”

Interacting with Chinese journalists on Tuesday, Mr. Modi highlighted the “strong potential” of India-China relations. “Asia, being the land of Buddha, has the responsibility to ensure that this is a century free from war,” the Prime Minister, who has already set up a special page on his visit to China, wrote in a tweet and on his new social networking Sina Weibo account.

Mr. Modi will address the Indian community in Shanghai on May 16.

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