Foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale on Friday made the first stand-alone visit by a top Indian diplomat to Beijing since the Doklam standoff.
Gokhale met vice-foreign minister Kong Xuanyou. He also called on foreign minister Wang Yi, and China’s senior most diplomat Yang Jiechi.
Gokhale, a 1981 batch officer, is a fluent Mandarin speaker, and was India’s ambassador to China until October. In his capacity as ambassador, he was part of the efforts to de-escalate the 72-day Doklam standoff along with national security advisor Ajit Doval.
The Indian Express reported that Gokhale’s brief ‘was to lay the ground for normalising India-China ties, which have been strained recently, ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s likely visit to Qingdao in China in June this year for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Summit.’
Gokhale’s parleys may have had one immediate effect. On Friday, China ceased to block the placement of Pakistan on the so-called ‘grey listing’ of Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a Paris-based international body set up to crack down on money laundering, including terrorist financing. The ‘grey listing’ could have some negative impact on Pakistan. As an apparent quid pro quo, spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs, Raveesh Kumar, welcomed China’s election as vice president of the FATF. ‘We remain hopeful that China would uphold & support the objectives & standards of FATF in a balanced, objective, impartial & holistic way,’ he tweeted.
Despite the apparent success on the FATF, several manifestations of the India-China rivalry remain evident. Most recently, the two countries have clashed over the Maldives. India has refused to participate in Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and stridently opposes its flagship project, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). In 2016, China blocked India’s bid to become a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and continues to block the UN ban on Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar. Managing India-China competition will remain an ongoing challenge.