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India calms China fears on US ties

New Delhi, June 21: India has made it clear that its growing political and military ties with the US are not aimed at China.

Delhi has thought it necessary to clarify its stand since some Chinese leaders privately think the improving Indo-US ties could hurt Beijing.

China has long feared being encircled by adversaries. The presence of US troops in Pakistan and Afghanistan has only strengthened those concerns.

Foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal sought to allay those fears today, saying: “India’s relations with China and its relations with the US are independent of each other.”

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee begins a six-day official visit to China tomorrow. This will be the first visit by an Indian Prime Minister to Beijing since P.V. Narasimha Rao travelled there in 1993.

But the significance of Vajpayee’s trip is not limited to the time lag between the prime ministerial visits. In the last 10 years, there have been a number of important changes at the regional and global levels.

India and Pakistan have become nuclear powers during this time and US troops are entrenched in Asia following the September 11 terror attacks and the Iraq war.

Of late, Delhi and Beijing have sought to improve ties. Vajpayee’s visit is expected to send out a clear signal to the people of both nations that the neighbours wish to engage with each other at the “highest political level.”

The border dispute, China’s help to Pakistan with its nuclear and missile programmes and the status of Sikkim remain sticking points.

Neither side thinks these issues can be resolved during the Prime Minister’s visit. But there is scope for making headway on other matters, and chief among these is trade and economic cooperation, on which both countries are placing a lot of emphasis.

A large Ficci and CII delegation is accompanying Vajpayee. The Prime Minister is scheduled to address businessmen from both nations in Beijing and Shanghai.

“Progress in business and trade is definitely a win-win situation,” Sibal said. He added that the neighbours had realised that while progress on a number of issues would be slow, bilateral trade could be fast-tracked.

“We advocate the same formula to our friends in Pakistan,” the foreign secretary said. Sibal said Delhi and Islamabad could normalise relations by improving trade ties and stepping up people-to-people contact while keeping the Kashmir dispute on the backburner.

Trade between India and China has grown rapidly over the last few years and is now worth $5 billion. In the last four months, trade has risen by more than 70 per cent, mostly in India’s favour. The neighbours hope to reach the $10 billion mark within a few years.

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