Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar on Tuesday began his visit to China with a meeting with Beijing’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi during which they expressed strong commitment to develop positive relations despite differences over several issues.
His meeting with Yang comes ahead of the strategic dialogue tomorrow to improve bilateral ties hit by Chinese reluctance to support India's admission into the NSG and back a United Nations ban on JeM leader Masood Azhar.
Yang, besides being the State Councillor of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC), is Beijing's Special Representative for border talks between India and China. In Chinese official hierarchy, State Councillor of the CPC is regarded as the top diplomat functioning directly under the country's leadership.
Welcoming Jaishankar, who arrived in China from Sri Lanka, at Zhongnanhai, the seat of power of Chinese leadership, Yang said despite differences, relations between the two sides had a positive growth last year.
"We truly hope that in the year ahead our two countries can enhance our exchanges and mutually beneficial cooperation so that we can jointly contribute more to peace and stability and development of our region and the world at large," Yang said, recalling President Pranab Mukherjee's visit last year.
On his part, Jaishankar said, "it's very good to be back (to Beijing). I come with nostalgia and very good feelings and also a very strong sense of commitment to maintain the relationship".
Referring to the first Strategic Dialogue which he will hold with Zhang tomorrow, Jaishankar said, "this is not just a meeting between me and my counterpart, it is preceded by consultations" on a host of issues.
Jaishankar is expected to meet Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, besides attending an upgraded strategic dialogue with China's Executive Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui tomorrow.
Underlining the significance of the strategic dialogue, which was upgraded during Wang's visit to New Delhi last year, China has deputed Zhang Yesui, also the head of the influential CPC committee of the Chinese Foreign Ministry for the parleys.
Jaishankar's talks with Yang and later in the Strategic Dialogue were expected to cover the key India-China differences like China blocking India's bid to join the 48-member Nuclear Suppliers Group and UN ban on Azhar and the USD 46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
Ahead of the talks, the Foreign Secretary flagged India's concerns on CPEC and counter-terrorism in an interview with the China's-state run Global Times.
"For us, there are questions of sovereignty which need to be addressed first," he said in oblique references to CPEC passing through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) over which New Delhi has already conveyed its protest to Beijing.
The counter-terrorism is one area in which China and India should make special efforts together, he said, without directly referring to China's repeated technical holds since last year to block Indian and US attempts to clamp a UN ban on JeM chief Azhar.
"China has a very strong, principled position on counter-terrorism. We hope the position China already has will be further implemented," Jaishankar said, adding that discussions with China over the matter are still going on.
Last year, China twice put a technical hold on India's application to 1267 sanctions committee of the UNSC and again blocked a resolution moved by the US - and backed by France and the UK - in January.
"Whether last year's application by India or this year's by relevant country our position is consistent. Our criteria is only one, we need solid evidence. If there is solid evidence the application can be approved. If there is no solid evidence there is hardly consensus," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters on February 17.
On India's admission into the NSG, again blocked by China, he reiterated China's stand, "We stick to two-step approach namely, first NSG members need to arrive at a set of principles for the entry of NSG by non-NPT state parties, and then move forward discussions of specific cases."
China also defends the ambitious CPEC project, saying it is development project and made no difference to its stand that Kashmir issue should be resolve by India and Pakistan.
Officials say the strategic dialogue will cover the whole gamut of bilateral ties. Two sides have been stressing that both sides are holding talks at various levels to iron out differences stressing that dialogue is the best way forward.
Commenting "friction points" including Azhar and NSG, Geng said "differences between China and India are inevitable, but through various forms of in-depth exchanges, including the upcoming Strategic Dialogue, differences can be minimised and new agreement can be reached on further cooperation".
In his interview to the same daily, Shaktikanta Das, Secretary Economic Affairs, said India wants more than just investment and eying Chinese market.
"India wants to export more to China. We want to have more market access in China," Das said, urging China to further open up sectors like IT software and agricultural products.
India also has been pressing Beijing to open pharmaceutical sector.
India?s trade deficit with China last year is over USD 46 billion in over USD 70 billion bilateral trade. India has been pushing China to invest more to compensate for heavy trade deficit.
State-run Xinhua news agency later reported that Yang has called for stronger ties between India and China during his meeting with Jaishankar.
China is willing to work with India to implement the consensus reached by the two countries' leaders, maintain high-level exchanges and enhance strategic communication and practical cooperation, a press release quoted Yang as saying.
Jaishankar said India attaches great importance to its relationship with China and will strengthen dialogue and cooperation with China to further the bilateral ties, Xinhua said.
(With PTI inputs)