India and China held their first official dialogue on Central Asia focusing on their "very similar" approaches in the strategically important region on issues like counter-terrorism, regional and energy security.
The two-day talks concluded on Tuesday and were "held in a cordial and friendly atmosphere marked by a high degree of candour," an Indian embassy release in Beijing said.
Senior officials of the foreign ministries of both countries discussed the situation in Central Asia, "focusing on the very similar" Indian and Chinese approach to political and economic relationships with Central Asian countries, it said.
"They had a conversation on specific issues like regional security and counter-terrorism, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, energy security, development partnerships, and people-to-people contacts with the countries of the region," the release said.
The Chinese side briefed the Indian delegation on China's vision of its relations with Central Asia while the Indian side described details of India's "Connect Central Asia" policy, it said.
"Both India and China are in the neighbourhood of Central Asia and have established close political and economic ties with the countries of the region. Both countries stated that strong relationships with the countries of the Central Asia region were an important priority in their foreign policy," the release said.
This is the first time such a bilateral dialogue focusing on Central Asia where the two countries have long and historical ties was held, reflecting deepening diplomatic engagement between the two neighbours even as they try to sort out friction resulting from recent reported incursions by Chinese troops along the Ladakh border.
The dialogue on Central Asia was followed by the first ever talks held by the two countries on Afghanistan, especially on the situation emerging due to planned pullout of US and NATO troops from the war-torn country by next year that has sparked concerns over the likelihood of the return of the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
The dialogue reflected the growing engagement between the foreign offices of India and China and comes after similar comprehensive dialogues on Africa, West Asia, and counter-terrorism issues, the release said.
The Indian delegation led by Ajay Bisaria, joint secretary, Eurasia division of the ministry of external affairs, also called on Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cheng Guoping and discussed the similarity of Indian and Chinese interests in Central Asia.
The Chinese side was led by Zhang Hanhui, director general, department of European-Central Asian affairs.
The Indian delegation also interacted with scholars at the China Institute of International Studies and the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations in Beijing.
The Indian side has invited the Chinese officials for the next round of talks to be held in New Delhi, the release said.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh