Chinese PM to focus on trade ties with India

Himalayan News Service

New Delhi, April 8:

Chinese premier Wen Jiabao begins a landmark India visit on Saturday, one that is likely to set a benchmark for future bilateral ties and give possibly a new business orientation to the present relationship.

Like many other recent visitors to India, the Chinese leader goes first in Bangalore to get an insight into India’s technological progress before proceeding to New Delhi Sunday evening on the second leg of his four-day visit.

Although all bilateral and international issues befitting the growing stature of India and China on the global stage will be discussed, the spotlight will be on enhancing trade and economic ties. In 2004, China’s trade volume with India was $13.6 billion, up 79 per cent from a year earlier.

Both countries are now aiming at a target of $25-30 billion in the next five years, Indian officials said. Trade diplomacy is the central thrust of building friendship and confidence between the two countries, and both governments are trying hard to push bilateral trade.

According to Chinese Ambassador Sun Yuxi, China and India are discussing a free trade agreement. “If this is achieved it will be the largest free trade area anywhere in the world,” he said.

Besides trade, a lingering border row that led to the war with China in 1962 will also figure in discussions the Chinese premier holds with Indian leaders. Wen, who is leading a delegation comprising foreign minister Li Zhaoxing, minister of education Zhou Ji and minister of commerce Bo Xilai, will meet top Indian leaders including Manmohan Singh, external affairs minister K Natwar Singh and defence minister Pranab Mukherjee besides calling on president A P J Abdul Kalam.

In New Delhi, he will also attend the inauguration of a China Culture Month in India and an event to commemorate the 55th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries.

Wen’s visit assumes special significance in view of a recent US report predicting the emergence of India and China as major world powers in the 21st century.

India and China have nevertheless expressed their desire to establish relationship as “friends, and not rivals” based on a convergence of economic and strategic interests.