India’s foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale will hold talks with top Chinese officials, including foreign minister Wang Yi, next week on key issues such as coordinating the positions of the two sides at international forums and the listing of Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist.
Officials who spoke on condition of anonymity described Gokhale’s two-day visit to Beijing beginning on Sunday as part of regular diplomatic consultations. However, he is visiting days ahead of the second Belt and Road Forum (BRF), which India will skip because of concerns over territorial sovereignty related to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
Gokhale, who earlier served as the envoy to Beijing, will have a series of meetings on April 22, including with vice foreign minister Kong Xuanyou and state councillor and foreign minister Wang Yi.
Indian officials sought to play down the significance of the timing of the visit, saying the trip had been scheduled quite some time back.
“The foreign secretary visits other countries as part of our regular consultations. He was recently in Washington and Moscow. He will be visiting Berlin after Beijing,” said an official who asked not to be identified.
In addition to talks aimed at maintaining momentum in bilateral ties in the wake of last year’s informal summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping at Wuhan, Gokhale is expected to discuss coordinating India and China’s positions on key global issues at forums such as the G20 Summit to be held in Tokyo in June, people familiar with developments said.
Xi is expected to meet the Indian Prime Minister on the sidelines of the G20 Summit. The Chinese side is also keenly looking forward to the second informal summit, which will be held in India some time after the general elections.
Beijing is currently preparing to host the three-day Belt and Road Forum from April 25, which will be attended by nearly 40 heads of state and government. India and Bhutan are among the countries that will not attend the forum. New Delhi had also boycotted the first edition of the forum in 2017.
India has repeatedly expressed concerns about the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), largely because of CPEC, which passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and the uneven playing field created by China for Xi’s flagship connectivity project.
For Beijing, India’s snub is a diplomatic irritant. Briefing the media on the forum on Friday, foreign minister Wang had said: “One of our differences is how to look at the BRI. The Indian side has its concerns. We understand that and that is why we have stated clearly on many occasions that the BRI, including the CPEC, is only an economic initiative and does not target any third country and they have nothing to do with the sovereign and territorial disputes left from history between any two countries.”
China’s repeated blocking of efforts to designate Masood Azhar a global terrorist at the UN’s Islamic State and al-Qaeda Sanctions Committee too has emerged as an irritant in ties. Gokhale is expected to convey India’s concerns on this issue to Kong.
Also read: China asks US to act ‘cautiously’ after its push to ban Masood Azhar at UN
Kong has played an important role in bilateral consultations in recent years, and had visited Pakistan in March in the aftermath of tensions following the Pulwama suicide attack that killed 40 Indian troops.
In December, Kong had visited India to review diplomatic ties in the wake of the Wuhan summit.
Incidentally, India has sent one of its frontline warships, INS Kolkata, to join the 70th anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army Navy at Qingdao in east China.
Hu Shisheng, a Beijing-based South Asia expert, said there are several issues for the two sides to discuss.
“I thought of the second BRF summit. Maybe, the Indian side wants to reduce China’s misconceptions. Although New Delhi is reluctant to send official delegations to the second BRF, the cooperation between the two countries on regional integration and governance can still be pushed forward,” said Hu, director of the Institute of South and Southeast Asian and Oceania Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.
Azhar will be discussed too, Hu said.
“That’s another possibility because the technical block will end by May. Discussions could also include how to coordinate positions during the G20 Summit in Tokyo,” he said.
Apr 20, 2019 17:30 IST