India, China reject rivalry, seek strategic consensus (Second Lead)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

NEW DELHI - Rejecting any rivalry between them as they become emerging powers on the global stage, India and China Thursday agreed to address contentious issues that have been a source of bilateral friction, set an ambitious trade target of $100 billion by 2015 and said that when the two Asian giants speak in one voice, “the world listens”.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his visiting Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao held talks to forge “strategic consensus” on a range of issues, including the problem of stapled visas for residents of India’s Jammu and Kashmir, the widening trade deficit, global terrorism, nuclear non-proliferation and climate change.

After their talks lasting an hour and a half at the Hyderabad House, the two leaders agreed that there was “enough space in the world for the development of both India and China and enough areas for both to cooperate”.

They welcomed the launch of a hotline between the prime ministers, that became operational four days ago, as an important step to build trust and expand cooperation on critical global issues needing urgent consultations.

“Our relationship has transcended the bilateral dimension and has assumed global and strategic significance,” Manmohan Singh said while toasting the Chinese premier at a banquet he hosted in his honour.

“The growing inter-dependence of nations provides both the opportunity and the obligation for India and China to cooperate together to meet the challenges facing the international community,” he said. “The fact is that when India and China, representing more than two and half billion people speak in one voice, the world listens.”

The two sides signed six pacts in areas ranging from media and cultural exchanges to green technologies, the sharing of hydrological data on the Sutlej river and collaboration between their banks.

Taking a long-range view of their relationship, New Delhi and Beijing focused on economic diplomacy to offset divergences on contentious issues.

India has expressed displeasure at China virtually questioning Indian sovereignty over Jammu and Kashmir by giving stapled visas to residents of the state seeking to visit that country and China’s accelerated investment in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir that New Delhi sees as a strategic threat.

A slew of important decisions were taken to keep the relationship, prone to volatility, on an even keel. This included the launch of an annual dialogue between foreign ministers, setting up a strategic economic dialogue to address trade deficit, the launch of a CEOs forum and greater market access for Indian goods to the Chinese market.

Wen himself brought up the issue of stapled visas that has caused so much heartburn in New Delhi and said that Indian and Chinese officials should meet and resolve the issue that has tended to cloud relations in the last two years since Beijing began this practice.

Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao quoted Wen as saying that “China takes this issue, takes our concerns very seriously” and that “officials of the two sides should have in-depth consultations so that this issue can be resolved satisfactorily”.

China has been giving stapled visas to people from Jammu and Kashmir, implicitly questioning the legality of New Delhi’s control over the divided Himalayan state.

Asked if the Indian side made it clear to the Chinese that Jammu and Kashmir was to New Delhi what Tibet was to Beijing, Rao said: “Our position is well known to the Chinese.”

In an important development, China shed its earlier ambivalence and agreed to back the UN resolution that proscribes terrorist organisations like Al-Qaeda and its affiliates like the anti-India Lashkar-e-Taiba.

“Both sides underlined their unequivocal opposition to terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and stressed that there is no justification for any act of terrorism anywhere,” said the joint communique after the talks.

India also took up the issue of terrorism emanating from Pakistan and pressed the Chinese leader to take it up with the Pakistani leadership when Wen visits Islamabad after wrapping up his visit to New Delhi Thursday.

Although the two sides agreed to expand their cooperation on a host of global issues, there was no perceptible advncement of China’s stand on India’s bid for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, an oft-reiterated position that caused some disappointment in New Delhi.

“China attaches great importance to India’s status in international affairs as a large developing country, understands and supports India’s aspiration to play a greater role in the UN, including in the Security Council,” was all that the statement said.

In his second visit to India, Wen hoped that his visit will widen and deepen relationship and lead to the forging of “strategic consensus” on a range of issues.

“With our joint efforts, we will be able to take out friendship and cooperation to a higher level in the 21st century,” the Chinese premier said at Rashtrapati Bhavan where he was accorded a ceremonial reception. He was warmly received by President Pratibha Patil and Manmohan Singh.

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