Foreign secretary Gokhale’s low-key visit to China an effort to put ties back on track
Foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale’s recent visit to Beijing was a low-key affair but it did reflect that India and China were attempting to mend ties and gingerly move forward after last year’s military standoff at Doklam.
Gokhale’s visit last week came in the wake of the political crisis in Maldives where both countries seem to be locked in a bitter diplomatic tussle for influence amid overlapping strategic footprints.
Gokhale held talks with Chinese vice foreign minister Kong Xuanyou, and called on foreign minister Wang Yi and state councillor Yang Jiechi.
Significantly, on Sunday, India congratulated China for becoming the vice chair of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a global body mandated to combat terror financing, and hoped Beijing would “uphold and support” the objective of the watchdog in a balanced and objective way.
“Congratulations to China on its election as Vice President of Financial Action Task Force at the #FATF plenary mtg. on 23 February 2018. We remain hopeful that China would uphold & support the objectives & standards of FATF in a balanced, objective, impartial & holistic way,” external affairs ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar tweeted.
China, Pakistan’s all-weather ally, had repeatedly blocked efforts at the United Nations by India, the US and the UK to designate JeM chief Masood Azhar a terrorist.
Gokhale would have conveyed India’s concerns on terrorism during the discussions.
Wang and Yang are both key in the fluid dynamics of the complexities of Sino-India ties. Gokhale, whose rich China experience was capped as ambassador last year, knows that.
“China and India, as important neighbours and fast-growing emerging economies, have a lot of common interests,” Yang was quoted as telling Gokhale by official Chinese media.
Yang called on “two sides to deepen strategic communication, beef up mutually beneficial cooperation and properly settle sensitive issues, based on the consensus reached by leaders of the two countries.”
“We hope that the Indian side will handle sensitive issues prudently and work with China to promote the sound development of China-India relations,” Wang told the Indian foreign secretary in an apparent reference to a host of sensitive issues between India and China, including the current political crisis in the Maldives.
China and India are both representatives of emerging markets and big developing countries, Wang said, adding that commonality cannot be replaced.
The discussions covered a wide range of topics, most importantly the state of current bilateral ties and the aftermath of the Doklam standoff.
Focus was on how to prevent the recurrence of a similar standoff; how to ensure that channels of communication remained smooth between officials working at the ground level, away from diplomatic high tables.
“During the consultations, the two sides reviewed recent developments in bilateral relations, including high level exchanges, and discussed the agenda for bilateral engagement in the coming months,” an official Indian statement said.
Both sides agreed upon the need to expedite various “dialogue mechanisms” in order to promote multifaceted cooperation across diverse fields of India-China engagement.
Gokhale stressed to the Chinese side that India attaches great importance to bilateral ties and was willing to work with it to implement the consensus of leaders, strengthen strategic communications, take care of each other's core concerns and create a good atmosphere for the sustained and steady development of bilateral relations.
It is important for both countries to look at the bigger picture especially since Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to visit the coastal city of Qingdao for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in June, the first summit India – and Pakistan – will attend after becoming full members.