India, China to set dates for defence dialogue


New Delhi : India and China are to set dates for their first defence dialogue, even as they urged their special representatives to continue efforts towards finding a solution to their long-standing boundary dispute.

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This follows a 40-minute meeting in Hamburg between Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi. This was the first meeting between Mukherjee and the new Chinese foreign minister.

The discussion took place on the sidelines of the Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM) that India is attending for the first time.

The two ministers reviewed progress under the memorandum of understanding (MOU) for defence cooperation "and said that dates would be fixed for the annual meeting of the Defence Dialogue Mechanism," a statement issued by the external affairs ministry here said.

The MOU was signed in 2006 when Mukherjee, then the defence minister, visited Beijing.

The dates for the dialogue, as also the date and venue of the first joint drill to be conducted by the armies of the two countries was expected to have been finalised during the visit to China of the Indian Army chief, Gen. J.J. Singh that concluded Sunday.

The announcements were apparently delayed because of New Delhi's displeasure over Beijing's denial of a visa to an Indian official who was to tour the country along with a large group of fellow officers.

Beijing says it denied the visa as the official hails from India's northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh that China says is a part of its territory and whose citizens do not require the travel document. New Delhi says Arunachal Pradesh is an integral part of India.

The discussion between the two ministers "also touched upon the boundary question and it was agreed that special representatives will continue with their work with the encouragement and guidance of the political leadership," the statement said.

The two ministers reviewed the India-China bilateral relationship in the light of the 10-pronged strategy to strengthen bilateral relations spelt out during President Hu Jintao's visit in November 2006.

"They said that high-level contacts should continue (meeting on G-8 sidelines, foreign minister level discussions, foreign office consultations etc)," the statement said.

They reviewed the trade and economic relationship and noted that bilateral trade had crossed $25 billion and, at this rate, should be able to meet the target of $40 billion by 2010.

The Chinese foreign minister said that in first four months of this year, bilateral trade had reached $11.4 billion, a 56 percent rise.

Other issues discussed included cooperation for the success of the India-China Tourism Year and Youth exchanges. Multilateral issues, particularly UN reforms, including Security Council reforms were also discussed, the statement added.

Mukherjee also had a half-hour meeting with Polish Foreign Minister Anna Fotyga.

"The discussions covered bilateral relations particularly trade and investment, cooperation in multilateral fora and the situation in Afghanistan," the ministry statement said.