Pranab heads to China on four-day visit

June 4th, 2008 - 6:17 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, June 4 (IANS) External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee Wednesday left for China on a four-day visit that will focus on building stronger economic ties and solving the border dispute. Mukherjee is accompanied by senior officials of the external affairs ministry, including spokesperson Navtej Sarna, Vijay Keshav Gokhale, head of the China desk, and Vikram Misri, director in the minister’s office.

Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon is already in Beijing and will join the minister during talks with Chinese officials.

Ahead of his visit, Mukherjee set a positive tone by saying that tension between the two countries had “reduced considerably from 1995 onwards” even though their border dispute remains unresolved.

The decades-old dispute over the international boundary will figure prominently when Mukherjee holds talks with his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi in Beijing Friday.

Issues like incursions by Chinese troops into Indian territory and an attempt by Beijing to revive its claims on part of Sikkim will be discussed.

Dates for the next round of talks between special representatives of the two countries dealing with the boundary dispute are likely to be finalised during the talks.

The two countries have held 11 rounds of talks on the boundary dispute, but have not been able to make much headway.

The two sides will also discuss global issues like climate change, which will top the agenda of the next summit of the G8 countries of most developed nations in Japan in July.

“There have been some incursions along the border by Chinese troops and we are regularly lodging protests with China. We have asked the security forces to be alert and maintain vigil on the border to stop the incursions,” Mukherjee said in Chennai Tuesday.

Mukherjee was trying to counter criticism from political analysts over New Delhi’s alleged “appeasement” of Beijing over border incursions and the Tibetan protests.

Mukherjee will also call on Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and convey India’s solidarity with the victims of the May 12 Sichuan earthquake and its readiness to send more relief material to the quake-hit region. Over 69,000 people were killed in the quake.

India Tuesday announced it will send two IL-76 aircraft carrying tents for the earthquake victims. India has already pledged $5 million in aid to the country.

Economic ties, which are blossoming despite the border dispute, will be in focus when Mukherjee formally inaugurates the Indian consulate Thursday in the trade city of Guangzhou, which follows the opening of the Chinese consulate in Kolkata five months ago.

This will be the first high-level contact between the two countries since Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to China in January and the first official visit by the minister to Beijing.

Trade between India and China has already surpassed $38 billion. The two countries are now aiming at expanding bilateral trade to $60 billion by 2010.

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