PM to leave on historic China visit on Jan 12

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New Delhi, Jan 11: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will undertake a three-day visit to China from tomorrow amid hopes of an early resolution of the vexed border dispute and further consolidation of ties between the two Asian heavyweights.

Ahead of the high-profile visit, India today expressed atisfaction over the talks on border dispute and said both countries were determined to settle the issue. Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon told reporters that the Special Representatives of the two countries on the border issue, are engaged in discussions on an appropriate framework for a final package settlement covering all sectors of the India-China boundary.

He said pending the resolution of the issue, peace and tranquility had been maintained in the border area as per the agreemnents signed erlier.

To a question about the contentious border dispute and China's claims vis a vis India's position, Mr Menon said both sides have different perceptions and the Special Representatives are looking into all these issues.

He said the talks are going on satisfactorily. ''We are happy at the progress made so far,'' he said.

The Prime Minister was initially scheduled to leave on January 13. However, the visit was advanced by a day.

Dr Singh had himself, at a function here, sounded a note of opitimism and told reporters that relations with China were in a ''very good shape'' and his visit would cement ties between the two countries.

Asked about the progress of the talks on the boundary dispute, Dr Singh said he was satisfied with the process of resolving the issue through the Special Representatives of the two countries.

''It is a complicated matter which would be dealt with as per the agreement on the broad parameters and guiding principles,'' he said.

During the visit, his maiden visit to China as Prime Minister, Dr Singh will hold wide-ranging discussions with the top Chinese leadership covering bilateral, regional and global issues including WTO and climate change. Dr Singh, accompanied by a high-level business delegation, would also hold discussions on the Regional Trading Agreement (RTA) for which the Joint Task Force has already finalised a report in October 2007.

The bilateral trade target is also likely to be reviewed in wake of the upswing trends.

In 2006, the bilateral trade was 25 billion US dollars as compared with 2.91 billion dollars in 2000. The two-way trade touched 34.2 billion US dollars during the period January-November 2007 -- a 54 per cent growth year on year with a trade deficit of 9.02 billion for India.

Mr Menon said the trade target of 40 billion US dollars by 2010 is expected to be achieved before schedule. He said India would explore possibilities of diversification to increase its share in the wake of the trade deficit.

Besides the long-standing border dispute, trade and investment would also be high on the agenda. Talks are also likely to be held on cooperation in civil nuclear energy.

A spokeswoman of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Jiang Yu, said in Beijing recently that the two countries were ready to make joint efforts to take their strategic relationship to new heights.

She said the Sino-Indian relationship was seeing ''sound development.'' The visit, at the invitation of Dr Singh's Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao, is part of the high-level exchange between the two countries in recent years including those by Mr Wen Jiabao to India in April 2005 and President Hu Jintao in November 2006.

Besides having official talks with his counterpart, Dr Singh will hold separate meetings with President Hu Jintao and Wu Bangguo, Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress of the People's Republic of China.

The last visit by an Indian Prime Minister to China was from June 22 to 27, 2003, by the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

The visit will underscore the message that the two Asian powers, both the world's fastest growing economies, are seeking a relationship of cooperation in a new world.

India and China fought a bitter border war in 1962, leading to a freeze in diplomatic relations until 1976. Since then, the two countries have steadily improved their relations, more so after the end of the Cold War.

Dr Singh's visit comes weeks after the historic joint military exercise by the two Asian giants in Kunming in western Yunnan province of China last month.

Experts feel the exercises underlined new found warmth and trust between the two countries.

Last year, the two countries jointly held the China-India Tourism Year, conducted frequent high-level exchanges and enhanced bilateral cooperation in various fields.

A number of MOUs, including for cooperation in rail sector, geo-census, health and optimum use of land resources are likely to be signed during the visit. Dr Singh will also address scholars at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and attend a meeting of Business leaders. He will also address an economic Summit on the emerging trends at the global level. Both Indian and Chinese business leaders will attend the meet. Eminent businessmen from India Inc. representing various sectors, would be the part of the business delegation.

The relationship between the two countries has seen many positive developments in last few years with trade increasing and investments registering an upswing.

During Mr Vajpayee's visit in 2003, Special Represenatives (SRs) were appointed to seek a political solution to the border dispute.

The India-China boundary issue is dealt with by a three-tier dialogue mechanism. Apart from the Special Representatives, the two sides have Joint Working Groups (JWGs) as well as an Expert Group (EG) to discuss the issue.

The SRs finalised the documents on guiding principles to resolve the border dispute which was signed after talks between Dr Manmohan Singh and his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao during his visit to New Delhi in 2005.

National Security Adviser M K Naryanan and Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo, the Special Representatives of the two countries have already held 11 rounds of discussions so far.

Mr Dai Bingguo and Mr Narayanan held their first round of talks in April 2005.

Congress President Sonia Gandhi had visited China in October last year and gave a lecture at Tsinghua University. She also met the top Chinese leadership.

UNI

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