NEW DELHI: As efforts to lower the pitch of Sino-Indian rhetoric gather pace, with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao seeking a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh later this month, the Chinese are closely watching US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William J Burns’ ongoing visit to India to see if there are any attempts by that country to comment on the bilateral tensions between the Asian giants.

For the record Burns, who met External Affairs Minister SM Krishna and his counterpart Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and other senior officials today, is in New Delhi to prepare for the Indian PM’s state visit to Washington next month, the first state visit by any foreign leader during the (Barack) Obama administration. It is unlikely, however, that the recent rise in Sino-Indian rhetoric would not come up in the course of the discussions.

While no big ticket items

like the Indo-US civil nuclear cooperation agreement are

envisaged, Singh’s largely

symbolic visit on November 24 will clearly chart the future course of Indo-US relations. China has made it apparent that it is not pleased with

India’s perceived increasing closeness with the US and the Indo-US nuclear deal, and held out for as long as it could before agreeing to a special waiver for India at the Nuclear Suppliers Group last year.

US Ambassador to India Timothy Roemer’s comments on Wednesday lauding the democratic process in Arunachal Pradesh would not have pleased the Chinese.The People’s Daily newspaper run by the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda wing, alluding to India’s strategic relationship with the US, said yesterday that India followed a policy of “befriend the far and attack the near. If India really wants to be a superpower, such a policy is short-sighted and immature,” its editorial reads.

The Global Times, an English-language newspaper, which reflects the party’s views on foreign policy, went further, warning that India would make “a fatal error” if it mistook “China’s approach for weakness. The Chinese government and public regard territorial integrity as a core national interest, one that must be defended with every means,” the paper said.

“The disputed border area is of strategic importance, and hence, India’s recent moves including Singh’s trip and approving past visits to the region by the Dalai Lama send wrong signal. That could have dangerous consequences.” According to B Raman, a strategic analyst, the primary reason for China’s shrill rhetoric was more to do with the Dalai Lama’s impending visit to Arunachal Pradesh than any defensive military build-up on the Indian side of the disputed Line of Actual Control.