Press Briefing by Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon on Visit of the Chinese President Mr. Hu Jintao
Shivshankar Menon: What I thought I would do, ladies and gentlemen, was just to run over what the President of China did today and try to give you a feel for the quality of the conversations that took place today.
As you know, he arrived yesterday evening, was received at the airport by External Affairs Minister, and Minister for Science and Technology and Earth Resources. Today morning he had a ceremonial welcome at Rashtrapati Bhavan, and then visited Rajghat to pay his respects at the Samadhi of Gandhiji.
The External Affairs Minister called on him in the morning. He then came to Hyderabad House where there was a restricted meeting between the Prime Minister and President Hu Jintao for about forty minutes with a small group. This was followed by delegation-level talks. The exchange of views between the Prime Minister and President Hu Jintao continued over lunch.
The atmosphere throughout was friendly, cordial, and there is a good rapport between the two. This is the fifth time that they are meeting in the last year and a half or so. They used this opportunity, in all these conversations, to review developments in bilateral relations in a comprehensive way. They exchanged views on regional and multilateral issues.
To characterize the discussions, I think they were positive, they were open, and they were constructive. You already have the text of the remarks that Prime Minister and President Hu made at the signing ceremony and the press interaction after that.
This afternoon the Vice-President, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, and Chairman of the UPA will be calling on the Chinese President. Rashtrapatiji and President Hu Jintao will attend the India-China Friendship Year commemorative function this evening in Rashtrapati Bhavan where they will also meet the youth delegations of India and China consisting of 100 youths from each country.
Thereafter, President Hu will call on Rashtrapatiji who will also host a banquet in his honour in Rashtrapati Bhavan this evening. Tomorrow morning the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha will be calling on him and so will some of the political parties – the CPI(M), CPI. He will deliver an address in Vigyan Bhavan at a function hosted by the Indian Council of World Affairs before leaving for Agra and then for Mumbai.
In terms of outcome, we are very satisfied with the way the visit has worked out, with the quality of the conversations, and with the specific outcomes. As you know, we have a Strategic and Cooperative Partnership for peace and development with China which was announced last year during Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit to India.
The desired attempt through these conversations is to bring the relationship to a new level, to add that to the strategic partnership, and to see how we can take this relationship forward. In all these respects, we are very satisfied with what has been achieved today so far.
This, as you know, is the first visit by a Chinese President to India in ten years. The last visit was in 1996 by President Jiang Zemin, and it comes at a time when our relationship is already a mature relationship.
In terms of major outcomes, you have the Joint Declaration with you already and you have a synopsis of the thirteen agreements which were signed. You will notice that the Joint Declaration contains the ten-point strategy for the development of this strategic and cooperative partnership between the two countries and provides a template for its all-round development.
To give you the highlights, the leaders of India and China have agreed to hold regular summit-level meetings and to intensify high-level exchanges. We have also strengthened the institutional linkages and inter-ministerial dialogue mechanisms. The protocol on cooperation between the foreign offices, for instance, institutionalizes this dialogue and the consultation mechanisms between them. It also provides for a hotline between the Foreign Ministers of the two countries. Additional Consulates General will be opened in Kolkata and in Guangzhou. We are also very happy that the long-pending issue of the property of the Indian Consulate in China has been settled finally.
As you would have noticed from the document, there is a comprehensive economic and commercial engagement between India and China. Trade, as you know, has grown considerably in the last two years and is likely to cross twenty billion dollars this year.
The two leaders set a target of forty billion dollars of direct bilateral trade by 2010. In their presence the Bilateral Investment Protection and Promotion agreement was signed which is one important component of the relationship. In addition, the Joint Task Force which is presently discussing regional trading arrangements was asked to complete its work by October 2007 and it will give us its report on the kind of trading arrangements that will be viable and feasible, and which will help both economies.
In addition there was an agreement between the leaders on enhancing the trans-border connectivity. As you know, we opened Nathu La to border trade for the first time this year and we are going to be exploring additional routes both for the Kailash Manasarovar Yatra and for border trade. There is agreement on a car rally between Kunming and Kolkata.
We are also working on arrangements for trans-border movement of motor vehicles which we hope will help trade and passenger traffic for which we have already made some temporary arrangements at Nathu La this year.
In this field of cooperative endeavour we have also agreed to set up an expert-level dialogue mechanism to discuss interaction in cooperation on issues regarding trans-border rivers. This is an issue of considerable significance for both of us. It is an issue which impacts on development, and the development of our economies and societies in both countries.
We are already receiving very valuable hydrological data from China in respect of two rivers – the Brahmaputra and the Sutlej and we have agreed to finalise at an early date similar arrangements for the Parlung Zangpo and the Lohit. It has also been decided to establish an India-China partnership in science and technology and four sectors have been identified for this, to start with, which will focus on nanotechnology including advanced materials, biotechnology, earthquake engineering, climate change, and weather forecasting.
We have also, and you would have seen this in the Joint Declaration, agreed to step up cooperation in the field of civilian nuclear energy both bilaterally and through multilateral projects like ITER. I draw your attention to paragraph 27 of the Joint Declaration.
We have also agreed that the international civilian nuclear cooperation should be advanced through innovative and forward-looking approaches. The other dimension that the two leaders looked at was increasing people-to-people exchanges and especially youth exchanges. The Government of China has invited 5000 youths from India over the next five years. We see this aspect of our relationship as really an investment in the future.
There are several other events at the people-to-people level including the organisation of Festival of India in China and a Festival of China in India. The year 2007 will be celebrated as "India-China Friendship Through Tourism" Year. You would have seen what has been done to make visas easier. We hope to do more work on that. We are also cooperating on making Nalanda a major centre of learning. We think these are important because these provide a solid base for the functional exchanges, for the other cooperation.
The two leaders also had a very useful exchange of views on the boundary question. They expressed appreciation for the progress and the effort and the work that these special representatives have put in, particularly for the achievement of signing the Agreement on Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for Boundary Settlement last year, and they asked them to hasten their work and to see that we can arrive at a boundary settlement. Earlier, they set this as a strategic goal for the relationship.
The most interesting part for me at least in these discussions was the very strong affirmation that India-China relations are no longer just a bilateral relationship but now have both a regional and global significance. This is something that you would have heard, President Hu also mentioned in the interaction.
Both sides are determined to ensure that India and China as good neighbours work together in their bilateral pursuits, that the rise of India and the rise of China in a sense are mutually reinforcing. We see this as helping us to develop our own societies. Good relations between the two countries contribute not only to our own development and to peace and prosperity in the region but we feel also for the rest of the world.
To sum up, I think we are very satisfied with the outcome of the discussions and with the understandings and with the agreements reached. I would be very happy to take any questions that you might have.
Question: Sir, I would draw your attention to point No.39 on page 7 of Joint Declaration on civilian nuclear cooperation. Are we to understand that it indicates that China is ready to take a positive approach towards India?
Shivshankar Menon: I think we have not come to that stage yet. We have had a conversation. As you know, we have had informal conversations with members of the NSG and we have told them what we think of the issue. But I do not think we have quite come to the stage yet where the NSG has to consider or to respond. I do not think they feel called upon to and we have not even asked them to at this stage to respond to that. I think it speaks for itself where it speaks of innovative and forward-looking approaches. I think that speaks for itself. It is clear that we all agree that this cooperation needs to be encouraged. We will have to find the way to do it.
Question: Do you see it as a positive signal?
Shivshankar Menon: I think it is positive, yes, it is.
Question: In the same paragraph on the subject of civilian nuclear cooperation, were any details discussed on how to promote this?
Shivshankar Menon: To the extent that we have discussed this earlier, we have discussed it during the visit. I think what you see is an expression of where we are today. We will take this conversation forward. You will notice this is in the larger context of energy security and how important that is. This is a shared concern. In fact, both leaders spoke of energy security, food security, environment as being issues which affect both of us and are going to be major concerns where we can work together, where we see we will need to. As I said, our own development processes will be mutually reinforcing.
Question: More on the civilian nuclear cooperation, are there any firm details on how that cooperation is going to take shape? Is it exchanging technology, fuel, or specifics?
Shivshankar Menon: Bilaterally, we have an ongoing cooperation with China. China, if you recall, supplied fuel for Tarapur in the early 1990s under IAEA safeguards. We have an ongoing cooperation programme with China. It is not as though we are starting from scratch here and that, you will notice, is reaffirmed in para 27 of the Joint Declaration. What we are talking about in para 39 is really the broader question of energy security and, as I said, of the new arrangements that we are entering into to make it possible for India and the rest of the world to cooperate in civilian nuclear energy. But that is not a conversation which has come to the point where they have been asked to say yes or no or we do it this way or we do it that way. Not yet. That is still an ongoing conversation for obvious reasons.
Question: Can you give us some sense of the discussion between the two leaders on the boundary question? Specifically there is a reference in the Joint Declaration that the Joint Working Group should exchange maps as soon as possible. This has been a sticking point as far as the Working Group is concerned. Are we to understand that after this meeting the exchange of maps is going to happen because of the reference ‘as soon as possible’ in the Joint Declaration?
Shivshankar Menon: I think there are two aspects to this. One is the maintenance of peace and tranquility on the border because that creates an enabling environment for us not just for discussing a boundary settlement and for making progress on it but also in the general sense I think it is an important aspect. And it is something we have done more than satisfactorily, (in fact) very successfully for several years on the border. Ever since the 1993 agreement, we have maintained peace and tranquility all along the border and both leaders expressed satisfaction at having achieved that. The second part of it is work towards a boundary settlement. As you know, we have made progress in those discussions. Last year we did the Guiding Principles and Political Parameters. It is our hope that the Special Representatives, when they meet and when they talk about it, can accelerate the progress towards that. But our basic approach to the boundary question, ever since the Rajiv Gandhi visit in December 1998, is to deal with the boundary question, try and find a solution, but in the meantime to develop the rest of the relationship. It would be a huge strategic gain if we could settle it tomorrow and both sides want to settle it soon. But it is not holding up the rest of the relationship, the comprehensive economic engagement or the other work that we are doing.
Question: Did we raise the issue of UN reform specifically and India’s case for permanent membership in the Security Council?
Shivshankar Menon: It was raised, discussed, and I think you have a reference in para 38 to reform of the UN both in general and in terms of reform of the UN Security Council and it is a question that we will continue consulting. We were assured also in the course of our consultations with the Chinese side that China will not be an obstacle to India’s membership of the Security Council. But this is a conversation that still has to go on because, as you know, this is not something that depends on one country or another. It is something that ultimately the UN system itself has to agree on reform and when we come to that stage we will see how it works itself out in practice. But there is no change in the Chinese position compared to what you heard about it.
Question: They are still non-committal?
Shivshankar Menon: That is not what I would call that. I would not call that non-committal but that is your characterization.
Question: Was there any discussion on the issue of terrorism in the context of South Asia?
Shivshankar Menon: There was a general discussion on terrorism. I think the Chinese are as concerned as we are about the fact of terrorism and its various sources. We have talked to them about it. We are working together actually on counter-terrorism as well. It is an element in our discussions with them. It is mentioned in passing. But you must appreciate that in three and a half hours you cannot cover everything in great detail.
Question: You have talked about exchanging hydrological data. But China has been talking consistently about diversion of water from the Zangbo river to the Brahmaputra. This is a concern for India. Has this issue been raised?
Shivshankar Menon: I think the Chinese Official Spokesman in Beijing and the Chinese Ambassador here have denied it. They have said they have no plans on it. But the fact is we now have a forum where we can discuss water issues whatever they are. Whether it is a question of diversion, whether it is a question of use, whether it is hydrological data, all these issues can be discussed in this forum. So we now have a forum to discuss it in. But the fact is that they have denied these reports that they plan to divert the water to Brahmaputra.
Question: Can you tell us a little bit more about the trans-border activities. And also, would you say that trade would subsume the differences that we have?
Shivshankar Menon: We do not see these as mutually exclusive or that somehow the trade solves all the differences. It just makes it easier. It gives you an atmosphere in which to address the differences, that is true. The goal of 40 billion dollars we think is achievable by 2010 because if you look at the rate of growth in India-China trade over the last few years, it has really been very fast. It is well over 16 per cent I think in the first nine months of this year for instance. Otherwise we do not see this as exclusive. We would like to try and settle our differences as soon as possible. If it is a boundary issue, for instance, we would like to settle it and both sides are trying their best. We do not see one is stopping or starting the other. I do not think that is how we see it.
Question: On the trans-border linkages …
Shivshankar Menon: Trans-border linkages, I think what we are talking about is not just pilgrimages but also meeting points, and border trade, and also about traditional linkages across these borders which are of immediate interest to the people who live in those regions, near the boundary. It makes sense from their point of view to have links across these borders. This is really a part of our larger policy if you look at all our borders. As the Prime Minister also likes to say, you cannot change your borders but you can make the borders irrelevant. You can build up a kind of relationship across these borders which contributes to a peaceful environment which is what we need to develop our own country.
Question: On the issue of civilian nuclear energy, para 27 (of the Joint Declaration) says, ‘consistent with the respective international commitments’. Does that once again raise the issue of India being a non-signatory to NPT? Since there have been no significant announcement except for the targets that have been set, do you see it as a mere symbolic statement?
Shivshankar Menon: We could hardly say that we will do this in contravention of our own responsibilities and commitments. We will do whatever we do in accordance with our commitments just as I am sure China will do the same. That is just a statement of fact. I do not think it raises a question or complicates it at all. This is a statement of fact. Each of us will implement our commitments. It is on your word that international relations are built.