LI PENG FACES LONG WAIT FOR VAJPAYEE 

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By FROM PRANAY SHARMA
  • Published 6.01.01
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New Delhi, Jan. 6 :    New Delhi, Jan. 6:  Li Peng, whose support is crucial if India and China are to work towards solving their decade-old border dispute, is arriving here on January 9. But he will have to wait for nearly a week before meeting Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Li, chairman of the National People's Congress (NPC), is pegged protocol-wise with the Vice-President Krishna Kant. Kant and Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi will jointly host his stay in India. But unlike his hosts, Li is not a political lightweight: he is considered number two in Beijing's pecking order after Chinese President Jiang Zemin. A meeting between Vajpayee and Li is scheduled for January 15, only a day after the Prime Minister returns to the country after his week-long visit to Vietnam and Indonesia. The NPC chairman arrives on Tuesday but unlike most foreign dignitaries, he will stop first at India's financial capital Mumbai instead of in Delhi. He will be accompanied by his wife Zhu Ling. In Mumbai, he will meet Governor P.C. Alexander and the captains of industry. Li arrives in Delhi on January 11 and for the next two days will meet various Indian leaders, including the Vice-President, Balayogi and deputy chairperson of the Rajya Sabha Najma Heptullah. But apart from foreign minister Jaswant Singh and Opposition leader Sonia Gandhi, most of Li's meetings in Delhi are with political lightweights. While in the capital, he is also scheduled to deliver a talk at the Indian International Centre (IIC) on January 13 on Sino-Indian relations and the future it holds for the two Asian giants. He will also attend a function organised by the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII ). The NPC chairman will leave for Agra to see the Taj Mahal on January 14, but will return in the evening for the meeting next day with Vajpayee. Li leaves for Bangalore on January 15 afternoon and after spending two days there, will return to China. Li's unusually long visit to the country - for almost nine days - is mainly to ensure that he gets to meet the Indian Prime Minister. This is Li's second visit in a decade to India. He had been here in 1991 as China's Prime Minister and while holding the post he had played an important role in two important agreements - the 1993 Agreement on Maintaining Peace and Tranquillity along the borders and the 1996 understanding which put in place several confidence-building measures to bring down the temperature further. Li, who was replaced by Zhu Rongji as Prime Minister, had to be accommodated as NPC chairman and pegged above his successor since he enjoys considerable support in the ruling Communist Party of China. It is, therefore, crucial that Li's views are sought and his support enlisted by Delhi and Beijing. India's relations with China had suffered a serious jolt during the May 1998 nuclear tests when India cited Beijing as the main threat to its security.