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India, China should avoid disputes, says Sitharaman as Sushma flags ‘connectivity projects’

The India-China relationship could be a factor of stability in a world of uncertainty, says defence minister

india Updated: Apr 24, 2018 19:59 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Nirmala Sitharaman with other ministers at Shanghai Cooperation Organisation's (SCO) Defence Ministers' meeting in Beijing on Tuesday.
Nirmala Sitharaman with other ministers at Shanghai Cooperation Organisation's (SCO) Defence Ministers' meeting in Beijing on Tuesday. (PTI)

Differences should not lead to disputes in India-China ties, defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman said on Tuesday as she emphasised the relationship between the two neighbours could be a factor of stability in a world of uncertainty.

Sitharaman’s remarks, made at the beginning of her talks with her Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe, came hours after external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj reiterated India’s strong stand on terrorism, saying it is against life, peace and basic human rights.

Swaraj also flagged India’s concerns over “connectivity” projects within Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) countries while speaking at a meeting of foreign ministers of the bloc. She did not explicitly mention China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) but said sovereignty is essential in connectivity projects.

Sitharaman said India’s ties with China transcended the bilateral dimension and had a bearing on the world.

“We are guided in our relations with China by the consensus reached between our leaders that at a time of global uncertainty, India-China relations could be a factor of stability and that we must not allow our differences to become disputes,” she said.

Sitharaman, who arrived in Beijing on Monday, attended the SCO defence ministers’ meeting on Tuesday. It was her first visit to China after taking over as defence minister. The agenda of her meeting with Wei wasn’t made public.

At the SCO foreign ministers’ meet earlier, Swaraj said: “There are a number of challenges that are being faced by the world today, foremost being the threat of global terrorism and the imminent need to build a strong security architecture to combat it.

“Terrorism is an enemy of basic human rights, of life, peace and prosperity.”

The fight against terrorism should not only seek to eliminate terrorists but should “identify and take strong measures against states that encourage, support and finance terrorism and provide sanctuary to terrorists”, Swaraj said without naming any country.

Both Swaraj and Sitharaman spoke at their respective SCO ministerial meets for the first time after India, along with Pakistan, became a full member of the bloc. Their Pakistani counterparts were present at the meetings.

Swaraj said India wants to “strengthen cooperation within the SCO framework for comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security”.

While referring to “connectivity” projects within SCO countries, Swaraj said: “Connectivity with SCO countries is India’s priority. We want connectivity to pave the way for cooperation and trust between our societies. For this, respect for sovereignty is essential. Inclusivity, transparency and sustainability are imperative.”

India has declined to join BRI because of sovereignty concerns as one of its flagship projects, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

Swaraj listed international connectivity projects that India is part of, including the International North-South Transport Corridor, a transit hub centred round Chabahar port in Iran, the Ashgabat Agreement, India-Myanmar-Thailand Highway Project and Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal Initiative.

Swaraj reiterated India’s stand on globalisation in international trade.

“India is committed to working with SCO to strengthen our economic and investment ties. We believe that economic globalisation should be more open, inclusive, equitable and balanced for mutual benefits. Protectionism in all its forms should be rejected and efforts should be made to discipline measures that constitute barriers to trade,” she said.