Beijing: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrived here on Sunday 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.
This is the first visit by an Indian premier in five years as the Asian powerhouses, which account for one-third of the world’s population, try to set aside lingering disputes and establish a partnership on the international stage.
“India-China relations have today transcended its bilateral dimension and have acquired global and strategic significance,” Singh told China’s state Xinhua news agency in an interview ahead of the trip.
Force Asia: Military guard welcoming Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on his arrival in Beijing.
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.
Upon arrival, Singh visited an Olympic venue as part of the three-day trip ahead of talks with his counterpart Wen Jiabao and President Hu Jintao on Monday and Tuesday, a Chinese official said.
During the visit, five agreements are to be signed including pacts covering railways, housing and traditional medicine, officials said, as the two nations looked to deepen ties and overcome decades of mistrust. India has long been wary of China’s close ties to its neighbours, Pakistan and Myanmar, both of which 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 their Indian rivals for lucrative gas and pipeline contracts in the isolated south-east Asian state.
Along with Singh, India is sending commerce minister Kamal Nath 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 (about Rs16,000 crore) to $9 billion since 2006.
“We would like to sell much more to China,” foreign secretary of India Shiv Shankar Menon 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 said.
The nations agreed in November 2006 to double trade to $40 billion by 2010. According to Chinese statistics, bilateral trade amounted to $34.2 billion from January to November in 2007.
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 sq. km of its territory, while Beijing claims the whole of Arunachal Pradesh, which is 90,000 sq. km in area.
The two countries have seen a thaw in relations in recent years, with their first ever joint military exercise in south-western China last month the most recent example.
Unfazed by concerns over “invasion” of Chinese goods in India, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today asked the Indian industry to “think big” and learn to compete while noting that there was enough space for the two countries to grow and a “historic necessity” to work together.
“We must engage China and learn to both compete and cooperate,” he told a high-level Indian business delegation in the run-up to the India-China business summit here.
The industry leaders including CII chief Sunil Mittal and Ficci president F. Khorakiwala sought the Prime Minister’s intervention with Beijing for early removal of trade and non-trade barriers.
The Prime Minister noted that a large part of the thinking in both the countries was shaped by Western views of China and felt there was need for a better understanding of the processes of change in this country.
“At a time when there are concerns about a global economic slowdown, China and India can sustain global growth through their own development,” he said.
Singh said “It is a historic necessity for the two great neighbours to work together. There will be areas of competition, and there will be areas for cooperation. There is enough space in the world for both countries to continue to grow.
“The rise of China and India should be viewed as an ‘international public good’ by the global community since it offered new opportunities to sustain global growth,” he said.
PTI contributed to this story.