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On eve of Pranab visit, China hopes for fair solution to border row

By Raghavendra in Beijing
June 03, 2008 18:50 IST
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Seeking to inject greater momentum into the bilateral ties and take forward the strategic partnership, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee will begin a four-day visit to China on Wednesday with the boundary row and irritants surrounding it expected to be a key item on a wide-ranging agenda.

On the eve of Mukherjee's visit, Beijing said the two countries do not see each other as a threat and it would work towards reaching through dialogue a "fair, reasonable and acceptable" solution to the boundary row, an issue which has often caused stress on bilateral relations with reports of Chinese incursions and its claims over Indian territory.

"The two countries have reached a consensus which is that both are important neighbours and partners to each other. The two countries will not regard each other as a threat," Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said at a media briefing in Beijing.

Qin said both sides attached "great importance" to the visit of Mukherjee, who is making the first trip after becoming the External Affairs Minister in the first high-level contact since Prime Minister Manmohan Singh came to China in January giving a greater thrust to development in bilateral relations.

Coming in the midst of warmer ties but marked by occasional boundary irritants, Mukherjee's visit at the invitation of his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi is also the first by an Indian external affairs minister since Jaswant Singh undertook the trip in 2002 and the first high-level contact since the Tibet unrest erupted in March.  
The two sides would hold talks on "a series of issues", including the boundary problem on which discussions had made "some progress" in recent years with the Special Representatives holding 11 rounds of dialogue under an established mechanism, Qin said.

"Now the countries have to have discussions on the framework for a solution," Qin said, adding China would continue to follow the political guiding principles and the dialogue to find a solution to the boundary issue. "During this process, we will try to maintain tranquility and stability of the boundary region to avoid disruption, for the sound development of China-India relations."

As the two Asian giants add greater depth to their ties, the building of a nuclear submarine base on the Hainan island by China has come as a latest concern for India. Asked about India reopening an air base in the Ladakh region close to China-occupied Aksai Chin area last week after 43 years, Qin said, "I am not aware of the specifics of the report."

The Indian Air Force had made the Daulatbeg Old airbase operational on May 31 when an AN-32 transport aircraft landed at the unpaved runaway, in a sign of the IAF's intention to re-operationalise the base which could give India the capability to keep an eye on the strategic Karakoram highway linking China and Pakistan.

India has, however, won China's appreciation for its handling of the Beijing Olympic torch relay in New Delhi which passed off smoothly after a troubled global run with Tibetans staging protests. During his visit which will begin from Guanzhou where he will formally inaugurate the Consulate General of India on June 5, Mukherjee would also meet Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and address the prestigious Peking University.

Mukherjee is also scheduled to meet Ji Xialin, a leading nonagenarian Chinese Indologist who translated the Ramayana from Sanskrit to Chinese and was conferred the Padma Bhushan this year, making him the first Chinese to receive India's top civilian honour.

Qin said, "We hope the relations between the two countries can develop. Constantly, the two countries can build up trust and expand cooperation and exchanges." Stable and developing bilateral relations served the interests of not only the two countries but also of the two peoples.

"It will also benefit peace and stability in the region. I believe our Indian friends understand this. This is not only the consensus between the leaders of the two countries but also the aspirations of the peoples of the two countries," Qin said.

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