China offers India a handshake across the Himalayas
NEW DELHI, May 20, 2013 (Reuters):India and China will study new ways to ease
tensions along their ill-defined border, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said
on Monday in his first foreign trip since taking office, which comes just weeks after a military stand-off
between the Asian giants in the Himalayas.
The number two in the Chinese leadership offered New Delhi a "handshake
across the Himalayas" and said the world's most populous nations could
become a new engine for the global economy if they could avoid such irritants.
"Both sides believe that we need to improve the various border-related
mechanisms that we have put into place and make them more efficient. We
need to appropriately manage and resolve our differences," Li said at a
joint news conference with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, where both men
appeared relaxed. China and India disagree about large areas on their
4,000-km-long border and fought a brief but bloody war 50 years ago.
While there has not been a shooting incident in decades, the long-running dispute gets in the way of improving economic relations
between neighbours, who account for 40 percent of the world's population
and whose fast growing markets stand in contrast to the stagnant economies of the West.
Bilateral trade reached $66 billion last year but both sides believe the
potential is much greater. In a joint statement that seemed to address
Indian gripes about its $29 billion deficit with China, they agreed to
address the imbalance, with specific reference to pharmaceuticals, IT
services and agriculture. Essar Group conglomerate is set to sign a $1 billion loan deal with
China's China Development Bank and China's largest oil and gas producer
PetroChina during the trip, sources said. They said the loan would be
backed by the supply of refined products to PetroChina.
In an impromptu speech after an official welcome ceremony at the
presidential palace earlier on Monday, Li said he wanted to build trust
and cooperation on his trip. "World peace and regional stability cannot be a reality without
strategic mutual trust between India and China. And likewise, the development and prosperity of the world cannot be a reality without the
cooperation and simultaneous development of China and India," he said.
Li said he chose New Delhi as his first destination on the four-nation
tour to show how important India is for China and also because he had
fond memories of visiting as a Communist youth leader 27 years ago. While most observers think it will take years to resolve the border
dispute, recent statements from Beijing suggest China's new leadership
would like to speed things up, perhaps to shift its attention to disputes elsewhere in Asia, including the South China Sea.
Singh said negotiators will meet soon to seek an early agreement on a
framework to settle the border, a goal that has so far eluded
representatives in 15 rounds of high level negotiations since the 1980s.
The three week stand-off on the border that ended on May 3 was the
latest reminder that sensitivity runs high. It distracted diplomats' attention from talks on investment and trade ahead of Li's trip and
soured public opinion toward China in India. The disagreement over who owns barren patches of the
Ladakh plateau and Arunachal Pradesh means there is almost no road or rail connectivity
between the giants. At a meeting with Singh in Durban this year, Chinese President Xi
Jinping said the two countries should seek a solution "as soon as possible" - a departure from previous language.