Friendly President on calm-China trip

New Delhi, May 27 
In a move to reassure Beijing that Delhi continues to value its friendship and that the recent improvement in Indo-US relations was not �at the cost of a third country�, President K.R. Narayanan will leave for a five-day state visit to China tomorrow.

Narayanan will be the first Indian President in more than eight years to visit China. The last Indian head of state to visit the country being R. Venkataraman, who went on a state visit in 1992. Chinese President Jiang Zemin visited India in November 1996.

Though it has not been admitted publicly, China is uncomfortable about the growing closeness between Delhi and Washington. Narayanan�s trip, the highest-level Indian visit to China since Bill Clinton�s March tour, assumes significance in that light. That Narayanan is going to China in the 50th year since the two cou-ntries established diplomatic ties also makes the visit important.

Sino-Indian relations nose-dived following India�s nuclear tests and Delhi�s decision to cite the threat posed by China as one of the reasons for India to go nuclear. Beijing not only reacted strongly to these, but is also perhaps the only member of the P-5, the five recognised nuclear power nations, which till date insists that India give up its nuclear and missile programmes and sign the NPT and the CTBT without delay.

But over the last year, attempts have been made by both sides to normalise relations. Indian foreign minister Jaswant Singh visited Beijing last June during the height of the Kargil conflict. Subsequently the two sides also resumed foreign office consultations and started a security dialogue for the first time, though both sides continue to deal with each other with caution.

Of late there have been talks on whether India is being used by America for strategically �encircling� China. China has also not taken kindly to the fact that India and the US have started their first �Asia security dialogue�.

Narayanan will try to reassure Beijing that Delhi continues to value its importance and would like to broadbase relations between the two Asian giants. He will also attempt to drive home the point that the growing closeness between India and the US does not necessarily mean that it was being done to isolate China: India is supportive of a multi-polar world and would like to have regular dialogues with key players in Asia and other parts of the world.

Narayanan will be accompanied by heavy industries minister Manohar Joshi and a team of Indian MPs and senior officials, including foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh. The MPs delegation, including Sushma Swaraj, Somnath Chatterjee, Ramchandra Pillai, Sushil Shinde, has been picked up from different parties and signifies that there is a national consensus to develop and strengthen ties with China.

Narayanan is Delhi�s best bet in improving relations with Beijing. As a career diplomat, Narayanan has served long years in China. He also visited the country as Vice-President in 1994. In Beijing he is widely regarded as a �friend of China� and much of the improvement in Sino-Indian relations in the post-Pokhran II period is attributed to the initiative taken by Narayanan.

The Chinese leadership is well aware that the President is a nominal head and does not wield power over formulating foreign policy. But they rely on Narayanan�s deep knowledge as a scholar and former diplomat.

That Beijing is seeing Naraya-nan�s visit as important is clear from the small but significant changes made in the protocol. Narayanan�s meetings will not be limited to visiting his Chinese counterpart Jiang Zemin and Prime Minister Zhu Rongi, but he will also interact with other important leaders in the Chinese establishment. The thrust will be on ensuring how the two sides could strengthen their bilateral ties.    


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