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India widens China talks

- Move aimed at calming Beijing on Tokyo ties

New Delhi, Feb. 10: India and China today expanded their final border negotiations under UPA II to talk about the growing tensions in East Asia and Afghanistan, in a concession by New Delhi aimed at assuaging Beijing’s concerns over its ties with Tokyo.

National security adviser Shivshankar Menon and Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi, the special representatives tasked with preparing a roadmap to resolve the boundary dispute, have held 16 rounds of talks in the past four years.

But the agenda for those meets has stayed restricted to their disputed boundary — a quarrel that was at the core of the 1962 war, and remains a source of diplomatic pinpricks for bilateral relations.

The decision to also discuss territorial disputes in East Asia at the two-day talks that began today comes at a time Beijing has articulated concerns over India’s rising proximity to other key regional powers that the communist nation fears are trying to contain its growth.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye and China-baiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made back-to-back visits to New Delhi in January, on trips where defence and strategic ties were as much the focus as traditional economic relations.

“We’re discussing the larger neighbourhood with all key players, and we have no problems discussing China’s perspective with them,” a senior official said. “We have nothing to hide from them, and we plan to make that clear.”

The boundary talks between Menon and Yang are the second leg of a three-stage dispute resolution mechanism the two nations have agreed on. They agreed to a set of political parameters that would guide relations as the first stage in 2005.

The second stage involves the two nations agreeing on finalising a border — an implicit understanding that both India and China will have to concede on a policy of give and take. India accuses China of occupying Aksai Chin, a part of Jammu and Kashmir, while China accuses India of occupying parts of Arunachal Pradesh.

The final stage of the resolution mechanism will involve the actual demarcation of a boundary to replace the over 5000km long disputed border that India and China share.

Today, Menon and Yang talked about the Border Defence Co-operation Agreement that the two nations signed during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Beijing last October, and confidence-building measures between the two armies in the icy heights of Ladakh.

But the talks are critical not just in the search for a border resolution, but for India to assuage any fears that it is a part of an alliance to contain China.

Chinese newspapers, and the Chinese ambassador to India in news columns over the past month, have articulated concerns that Tokyo may be trying to pull New Delhi into a grouping against Beijing.

But India, officials said, will remind China of a crucial diplomatic commitment the nations made to each other during Singh’s Beijing visit.

"We agreed that, as large neighbours following independent foreign policies, the relationships pursued by India and China with other countries must not become a source of concern for each other," Singh had said, speaking to reporters after his meet with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on October 23. "This will be our strategic reassurance."

Both nations had then agreed not to allow their independent foreign policies and ties with other nations to affect bilateral relations. China, New Delhi has told Beijing, is not a nation India seeks to contain.