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India, China seek common ground on Afghanistan

Both countries set aside differences on Masood Azhar, Delhi’s NSG entry bid.

February 28, 2017 02:06 am | Updated 02:42 pm IST - NEW DELHI

New frontiers  Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar held talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Beijing recently.

New frontiers Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar held talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Beijing recently.

Despite differences on a number of issues, including over the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), U.N. designation of Masood Azhar as a terrorist, and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, India and China began to look for a “common ground” on Afghanistan during Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar’s visit to Beijing last week, official sources told The Hindu .

Officials reportedly even discussed the possibility of “joint development projects” that could be undertaken despite economic rivalries between the two countries in other parts of the subcontinent.

The Foreign Secretary’s visit, which saw a restructured “Strategic Dialogue” with Chinese executive Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Zhang Yesui, also witnessed an effort by both sides to “stabilise India-China relations” at a time the world is experiencing a new “volatility,” a senior official said.

Shifting calculus

This indicates a shifting global calculus due to the recent surprise foreign and trade policy moves by the new U.S. administration under Donald Trump.

“The overarching concern during the talks seemed to be that China had grown economically, and India has been growing because of a predictable international system so far,” one official, privy to the talks, said. “Each one of us is affected by the new unpredictability, and we must do what we can to bring down the volatility, instead of playing up our differences.”

Officials who were privy to the negotiations told The Hindu that there was still little movement on issues that were most highlighted in the past year, mainly over Masood Azhar, where China has put a technical hold at the U.N. that will lapse in July, and the NSG, where India’s membership will be taken up again at the plenary session in June.

Another irritant

Another possible flashpoint in May 2017 is Chinese President Xi Jinping’s global conference on the “Belt and Road Initiative (B&RI),” where the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor that runs through Pakistan occupied Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan will be highlighted and which Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is expected to attend.

Officials said that India had “made it clear” that it would not take part given the “sovereignty issues.”

While talks on Azhar and the NSG failed to see any breakthrough, the fact that both the Indian and Chinese delegations included officials dealing with Pakistan and Afghanistan as well as the U.N. and multilateral ties showed that China was “open to finding solutions,” the official said.

To that end, the strategic dialogue was divided into five different “sub-groups” — Afghanistan, nuclear issues, United Nations including the 1267 designation committee, bilateral issues, and consular and visa matters, or people-to-people ties — with Joint Secretaries Pradeep Rawat for East Asia, Pankaj Sharma for (Nuclear) Disarmament, Rudrendra Tandon for U.N., and Gopal Baglay (appointed MEA spokesperson on Monday) for Pakistan-Afghanistan and Iran leading the discussions on the issues.

On Afghanistan, it is learnt that the Chinese government, which proposed a separate discussion, had expressed its “admiration” for India’s work on developmental projects, including the Salma Dam in Herat.

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