Border on Li talks table

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  • Published 19.05.13

New Delhi, May 18: Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang is scheduled to reach here tomorrow afternoon in the aftermath of the tent tiff in Ladakh, all set to outline for New Delhi the future trajectory of relations that Beijing intends to set.

This is Premier Li’s first foreign visit since taking over. But immediately after leaving India, he takes off for Pakistan and then for Switzerland and Germany.

Commentators in India have called China and Pakistan “all-weather” friends and India has border disputes with both that were stoked this year.

Almost immediately after landing here, the Premier and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh are scheduled to go into a “restricted meeting”. The formal delegation-level talks will be held on Monday morning.

Foreign office sources said “everything was on the table” for the summit meeting. The ministry of external affairs was still trying to figure out the reason for the Chinese manoeuvre in Ladakh even as Beijing proposed a new Border Defence Cooperation Agreement (BDCA). New Delhi is expecting that it will have a better understanding of the border talks after Singh’s meeting with Li.

A glimpse into Beijing’s plans and ideas will be available from Premier Li when he speaks to an audience of university students at a meeting hosted by the Indian Council for World Affairs (ICWA) on Tuesday morning.

In the run-up to his visit, Li was most outspoken on India while meeting a youth delegation in Zhongnanhai earlier this week.

“In a few days, I will make India the first stop of the first overseas visit as the Premier of China. I have made this decision not just because India is an important neighbour and one of the most populous countries of the world, but also because of the seeds of friendship sown during my own youth,” he had said. He was part of a youth delegation that had visited India years ago.

Despite being uncomfortable that Prime Minister Li has clubbed his visit to India with a visit to Pakistan, the Indian foreign office is still pleased that he has chosen New Delhi as his first destination even though it was the Indian Prime Minister’s turn to visit China.

Talks on settling the undemarcated border, the sharing of the waters of the Brahmaputra and easing access for Indian goods into the Chinese market frame the agenda for Li’s visit and talks with Singh.

There is suspicion in India that the “incursion” like the one in Raki Nala could be repeated.

“There is a need to revive this particular subject to prevent incidents of this nature. Clarifications we really seek are imperative and are required. (Otherwise) This (Raki Nala incursion) kind of incidents could recur. This is something we would certainly flag,” said a source.

The joint secretary (East Asia), Gautam Bambawale, said India would push for lowering of tariff barriers by China. In 2012, bilateral trade totalled $66 billion, a decline over the $74billion in 2011. The two countries have set a target of $100 billion by 2015. The balance of trade favours China with India’s trade deficit being $27 billion.

Chinese companies are also executing projects worth $55 billion in India.

Reflecting another major concern, former ambassador Nalin Surie said “India’s fears are not unfounded” because of a Chinese proposal to build three dams across the Brahmaputra.

India wants China to institutionalise an inter-governmental dialogue to deal with water issues.

Premier Li travels to Mumbai on Tuesday where he will meet business leaders and visit a facility of Tata Consultancy Services. He is also scheduled to meet relatives of Dwarkanath Shantaram Kotnis, an Indian doctor who treated Chinese victims during the second Sino-Japanese War in 1938.