NEW DELHI, Sept 8 (Reuters) - China denied reports on Monday it was reluctant to support a U.S. proposal to lift a global ban on nuclear trade with India, as foreign ministers of the two countries began talks to solve a festering border dispute.
Indian diplomats had expressed disappointment after China appeared less than keen on lifting the ban during the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) meeting in Vienna this weekend.
But the Chinese foreign minister, in New Delhi on a three-day state visit, said he was surprised by such reports.
“We didn’t do anything to block it. We played a constructive role,” Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi told India’s CNN-IBN news channel on Monday.
“We also adopted a positive and responsible attitude and a safeguards agreement was reached, so facts speak louder ... than some reports,” a smiling Jiechi said.
China and India, the world’s fastest growing major economies and most populous nations, face many of the same challenges, including stability in Asia and the struggle against terrorism.
But despite frequent visits between the former foes to break down decades of wariness, lingering mistrust and a border dispute make them unlikely partners.
Since the NSG waiver, Indian newspapers have run many articles on China’s perceived reluctance to support New Delhi’s attempts to seal a controversial U.S.-Indian atomic energy deal.
“This time, strong U.S. support trumped Beijing’s attempt to block India’s entry into the nuclear club,” The Indian Express newspaper said in an editorial on Monday.
Indian diplomats too said they were far from happy with the response they got from China in Vienna.
“We will of course express some kind of disappointment,” India’s national security adviser M.K. Narayanan told an Indian news channel after the NSG waiver. India’s foreign minister has so far declined to comment on the issue.
China’s Jiechi called on India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee during the second day of his three day visit to India.
In addition to solving a border dispute dating back to a 1962 war between the two countries, the two Asian giants are seeking to push bilateral trade beyond the present $30 billion.
Their relationship has seen more downs than ups, and analysts said the Chinese foreign minister’s visit might help clear the air.
“China and India have no option but to engage with each other. The challlenge between them is to define the texture of the engagement as the current perception in India is that Vienna was a setback,” said C. Uday Bhaskar, former director of New Delhi’s Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.
China has hardened its position on the border dispute by restating its claim to the Buddhist monastery at Tawang, and Indian security forces have complained of frequent border incursions by Chinese forces last year.
The Indo-U.S. civilian nuclear deal now requries a U.S. ocngressional approval before the deal is finally signed. (Additional reporting by Nigam Prusty; Editing by Catherine Evans)