The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Trade before thorny issues with Beijing

Beijing, Nov. 12: Bilateral trade and regional developments, rather than irritants like China’s sale of arms to Pakistan, are likely to dominate talks between China and India during Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s proposed visit here.

The controversial issues remain, but both sides seem to have informally decided to push them to the background and engage in more frequent dialogues on economic and mutually relevant concerns.

The new geopolitical equations in South Asia as well as the Asia-Pacific are believed to have opened up new possibilities for more frequent exchanges between the two countries. China is obviously concerned with increased American military presence on its borders in the wake of 9/11.

The sudden expansion of the US presence in Afghanistan, Central Asia, Taiwan and the Philippines cannot be a happy development for China which is plagued by secessionist politics in its western provinces on the Afghanistan-Central Asian border.

“It is a wrong perception, though, that the new situation is a fallout of the terror attacks on America,” India’s ambassador to China Shivshankar Menon told The Telegraph. It has more to do, according to him, with the rise of the two new neighbours as major economic powers.

This was evident in the Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Rongji’s decision to visit New Delhi last January at the height of India-Pakistan tensions following the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament the previous month. He raised hopes in India, saying that China expected the bilateral trade to be worth $10 billion in the next two or three years.

India, too, has reason to be happy with the increase in trade with China. This year, it rose by 28 per cent.

More and more businessmen of Indian origin have set up shops in south China over the past few years.

The unsettled boundary dispute and other issues will, however, continue to be addressed by the joint working group, which holds its next meeting in New Delhi on November 21 and 22.

But there still hangs a question mark on Vajpayee’s visit to Beijing. The Chinese communist party congress may have added its bit to the uncertainty about the timing of the visit.

The congress, which was initially scheduled for September, had to be delayed because of Jiang Zemin’s visit to the US — his last before he was to bow out of the party and the government after a 13-year stint. By the time the congress ends, the winter session of Parliament is due to start.

Both sides are still hopeful that Vajpayee will be able to make it to Beijing soon.

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