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Opportunity for India, China to form close ties: officials

LiveMint logoLiveMint 22-02-2017 Elizabeth Roche

New Delhi: The current flux in the international situation could be an opportune moment for Asian giants India and China, whose ties have been marked by mutual suspicion, to forge close ties that could lend predictability to the global system, officials from the two countries said at a meeting in Beijing.

Indian foreign secretary S. Jaishankar, who is in Beijing for the first India-China strategic dialogue, on Wednesday told reporters that officials from both sides had “useful” exchanges on international issues.

“It was important at this time because the feeling was that the international situation is in flux and both India and China have been beneficiaries of a stable and open international system and at this time probably one thing that we could do together was a more stable, substantive, forward looking India-China relationship which would inject a greater amount of predictability into the international system,” he said.

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The reference was to statements by US President Donald Trump advocating trade protectionism, calling for immigration curbs and withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal.

The TPP, the cornerstone of former President Barack Obama’s Asia strategy, aimed to integrate Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the US and Vietnam into one trading bloc. Although China wasn’t included in the deal, Trump’s announcement of the pullout was followed immediately by Chinese President Xi Jinping pledging support for globalization and slamming protectionism.

A person familiar with the developments said Jaishankar’s comments were aimed as much at China as the US adding, “It’s India’s way of telling China not to resort to protectionism and to walk the talk. India’s pharmaceutical and IT industries have been facing problems in entering China and this is due to non-tariff barriers.”

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Jaishankar, in his statement, said that India had made its “concerns about the (bilateral) trade deficit very clear to the Chinese side and it was agreed that the Joint Economic Group which is headed by the commerce and industry minister (Nirmala Sitharaman) will meet early to review this.”

India-China trade tops $70 billion but almost $53 billion accounts for Chinese imports to India. “The Chinese have taken some measures but clearly these haven’t addressed the problem in a substantive way,” Jaishankar said. “In terms of the forward progress there was a recognition that the investment climate has improved in India. Chinese foreign direct investment has gone up very substantially. The fact that today visas and exchanges between us are going much better,” he said.

On other irritants in the relationship—such as China’s block on India’s efforts to gain admission into the elite Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and its reluctance to get Pakistan-based militant Maulana Masood Azhar designated a terrorist under UN rules—India and China did not seem to have made any progress.

On the Chinese foreign ministry calling for “solid evidence” to get Azhar banned, Jaishankar said, “in the case of Azhar, Jaish itself is proscribed” by the UN. “So the proof is in action. In this case what he has done, extent of his actions, are well-documented,” he said.

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“On the NSG issue, (the) Chinese side underlined that they are open to India’s application for membership. They have their view of procedures and processes. These were different from where we are at the moment and most of the group is at the moment,” Jaishankar said.

“I would say, overall, I felt my visit was certainly useful in conveying to the Chinese side our concerns and priorities and gaining from them an appreciation and their understanding of the world situation and in what manner we could work together,” he said.

PTI contributed to this story.

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