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‘All issues on table’ in China-India talks

AFP-JIJI

India says all issues will be “on the table,” including a recent border spat and a festering trade imbalance, during Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s visit to the South Asian giant, which started Sunday.

At the same time, New Delhi thinks “very highly” of Li’s decision to make India his first overseas stop since taking charge as premier, Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said Saturday.

After arriving just after midday Sunday, Li was to hold talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and later was to be a guest at a dinner hosted by the Indian leader at his residence, officials said.

Such high-level exchanges are aimed at “enhancing trust,” Akbaruddin added. Ties between the neighbors have been dogged by mutual suspicion that lingers long after a 1962 border war high in the Himalayas.

India’s joint foreign secretary for East Asia, Gautam Bambawale, said “everything is on the table” for discussion, including the border dispute and improving the nations’ trade balance, which is tilted heavily in Beijing’s favor.

“The two prime ministers will talk about these subjects,” Bambawale said.

The border dispute with New Delhi flared last month into a three-week standoff after India alleged that Chinese troops intruded nearly 20 km into Indian-claimed territory, highlighting long-standing tensions.

The Line of Actual Control between the nuclear-armed neighbors has never been formally demarcated although they have signed accords to maintain peace in the Himalayan area.

The world’s two most populous countries have in recent years seen ties improve and trade boom, and both sides sought to stay low-key over the latest row.

Beijing said Chinese troops “never trespassed the line.”

Separately, sources said Saturday that India will push for efforts to avoid such alleged occurrences in future, according to the Press Trust of India.

On Monday, the two leaders, accompanied by high-level delegations, are set to hold wide-ranging talks on key international, regional and bilateral issues.

On the economic front, Bambawale said India will press for more trade access to China. In 2012, bilateral trade was $66.5 billion — down from $74 billion in 2011 and a setback to the neighbors achieving their $100 billion goal by 2015.

India also faces an increasing trade deficit with China that totaled $29 billion in 2012, according to Chinese figures.

In addition, New Delhi will seek assurances that a Chinese plan to construct three more hydropower dams across the mighty cross-border Brahmaputra River — known in China as the Yarlung Tsangpo — will not affect India’s downstream water flow.

After New Delhi, Li is scheduled to travel Tuesday to India’s financial hub of Mumbai and then to Pakistan, Switzerland and Germany as Beijing seeks to address security and economic disputes.