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Pranab leaves for trilateral meet, focus on better ties

Indian foreign minister says the trilateral meetings between India, China and Russia gives an opportunity to discuss issues relating to peace and stability, reports Amit Baruah.
Hindustan Times | By Amit Baruah, Harbin (china)
UPDATED ON OCT 24, 2007 02:46 AM IST

EIGHT MONTHS after their last session in New Delhi, India, China and Russia are set to hold their third standalone Foreign Ministers meeting in this northeastern Chinese city on Wednesday.

En route to Harbin, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said the trilateral meetings were useful as they gave the three countries an opportunity to discuss issues relating to peace and stability.

“It creates better understanding among ourselves,” he said, adding: “We want to benefit from our development experiences.”

Mukherjee said there were differences of perception on matters like the expansion of the United Nations Security Council, but the idea was to discuss these issues.

However, the question uppermost in the minds of analysts is: will this meeting in Harbin be different from the ones in New Delhi (February 2007) and Vladivostok (June 2005) and previous sessions on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York since September 2002?

C.V. Ranganathan, co-chair of the India-China Eminent Persons Group, said from Bangalore the time had come for the three to move beyond the “declaratory stage” to fulfilling their intent through concrete cooperation projects.

However, Ranganathan, the former Indian ambassador to China, said: “I do not, in any way, undervalue the importance of these meetings. They signal a certain common understanding of global issues.”

According to him, Mukherjee, Yang Jiechi and Sergei Lavrov could take up key questions like the stabilisation of Afghanistan and take a “certain view” on developments in Pakistan.

External Affairs Ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna on Monday said the three ministers are “expected to discuss regional and international issues and expansion of trilateral cooperation”.

Like in their previous statements, all the three countries have been careful in emphasising that their cooperation was not directed at any third country — though it remains unnamed, the reference is clearly to the US.

Although there is a new attempt to assert Russian influence, with oil and gas money filling its coffers, New Delhi, Moscow and Beijing are aware of the importance of not displeasing the US on key issues.

These trilateral meetings have evoked wide interest in Western capitals and are being seen as a forum-in-the-making as the three countries discuss issues like energy cooperation and counter-terror action.

The proposal of a “strategic triangle” between India, Russia and China was first forwarded by Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov in 1988 during a visit to New Delhi. The Russians, clearly, have been the drivers behind this process.

The Harbin meeting comes five months after the Chinese protested against a quadripartite meeting between India, Australia, Japan and the US in May — the first-ever such interaction, which stressed the virtues of democracy and common values.

Following concerns raised by the Chinese, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke to President Hu Jintao assuring him that the four-nation dialogue was not directed Beijing.

Sonia, Manmohan visit

THe Congress chief leaves for China in two days, a trip being dubbed as a sign of New Delhi’s desire for solid, improved relations with Beijing at a time when trade between the two countries is booming.

Sonia Gandhi will be meeting President Hu Jintao and other top Chinese leaders.

External Affairs Ministry officials said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, too, will be visiting the country next year, possibly in January.

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