Beijing: Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrived in China early today morning for talks with China’s leaders as the two most populous nations look to turn their combined clout into a major force in global affairs.
It is the first visit by an Indian premier in five years as the Asian powerhouses, who account for one-third of the world’s people, try to set aside lingering disputes and establish a partnership on the international stage.
“India-China relations have today transcended their bilateral dimension and have acquired global and strategic significance,” Singh told China’s state Xinhua news agency in an interview ahead of the trip.
Regional and global issues to be part of agenda
He said he hoped to discuss a wide range of issues with Chinese leaders including UN reforms, regional dialogue and global issues such as climate change, energy security, international trade and counter-terrorism.
Singh was to visit Olympic venues on Sunday as part of the three-day trip before holding talks with his counterpart Wen Jiabao and President Hu Jintao on 14-15January, a Chinese official said.
India has long been wary of China’s close ties to its neighbours Pakistan and Myanmar, both of whom enjoy strong military support and economic aid and investment from Beijing.
China and India have also competed for resources in Myanmar in recent years, with Chinese companies beating out their Indian rivals for lucrative gas and pipeline contracts in the isolated southeast Asian state.
Along with Singh, India is sending Kamal Nath, commerce minister at the head of a trade delegation, with New Delhi looking to rein in a trade gap with China that it says has jumped from $4 billion to $9 billion since 2006.
“We would like to sell much more to China,” Shiv Shankar Menon, Indian foreign secretary told journalists before the group left New Delhi.
“In the last few years trade shifted in China’s favour, and we are hoping to change that,” he added.
The nations agreed in November 2006 to double trade to $40 billion by 2010. According Chinese statistics, bilateral trade amounted to $34.2 billion from January to November in 2007.
Territory dispute to be taken up
Officials said the two sides would also work on a long-standing territory dispute which led to a brief war in 1962.
In his interview, Singh said that settlement of the boundary would “advance the basic interests of the two countries and should therefore be pursued as a strategic objective.”
India says China occupies 38,000 square kilometres (14,670 square miles) of its territory, while Beijing claims the whole of the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, which is 90,000 square kilometres in area.
The two countries have seen a thaw in relations in recent years, with their first-ever joint military exercise in southwestern China last month the most recent example.
“The visit is expected to be successful,” commented Pranab Mukherjee, Indian Foreign Minister, referring to the territory dispute. “But if you are expecting that there would be any dramatic turnaround on certain issues, which are long-pending, then it would perhaps be too much,” he said.