India, China to hold first strategic dialogue

Agence France Presse

New Delhi, January 21:

India and China are to upgrade bilateral ties with the start of their first strategic dialogue on Monday against a backdrop of efforts to settle their long-running Himalayan border dispute.

A foreign ministry official said China’s Vice-Foreign Minister Wu Dawei would arrive in New Delhi on Sunday for talks with Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran, a fluent Mandarin speaker.

The two-day dialogue aims to broaden the scope of the India-China relationship allowing both sides to exchange notes on global and regional security issues, the Indian Express newspaper reported today. It was expected to provide a forum to forge greater understanding on issues including terrorism, energy security, disarmament and United Nations reforms, the daily said.

Discussions on exploiting energy reserves in Central Asia could also figure in the meetings, the paper said noting that India and China were strategically located to do so. The talks show a willingness to explore ways to upgrade links while addressing contentious issues such as a dragging border dispute, the report added.

India and China fought a brief border war in 1962 that left their relations in shreds. But in recent years they have played down their territorial disputes to focus on improving ties.

Both sides are engaged in discussions to resolve a lingering boundary dispute with special representatives of India and China holding several rounds of talks since June 2003.

The Saran-Wu talks will also prepare the ground for the upcoming visit of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao who is expected in March, the Express said. During his two-day stay in New Delhi, Wu will call on Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Foreign Minister Natwar Singh, the foreign ministry official said.

Indian analysts welcomed the launch of strategic dialogue between the two nations of the world that have so far been seen as competitors in crucial fields — in trade and attracting global investments and playing key roles in international politics. China officially recognised the tiny state of Sikkim as part of India in return for New Delhi acknowledging Tibet as a part of China. Indian and Chinese forces also took part in naval exercises off Shanghai for the first time, opening a new chapter in military ties.

C Uday Bhaskar, interim head of the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, a government funded Delhi-based think-tank, described the dialogue as a “positive development”. “There was a deficit of trust,” he said tracing the movement from setting up a joint working group to resolve the border disputes in 1988 to the strategic talks in 2005.