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China-India Relations Warm Up - 2002-03-28

India's foreign minister, Jaswant Singh, begins a five-day official visit to China Friday, amid signs of warming ties between the two neighbors. Mr. Singh's visit coincides with the establishment of the first-ever direct air link between the two countries.

Mr. Singh is traveling to Beijing on a China Eastern Airline flight, which arrived in New Delhi Thursday on its inaugural journey between the two capitals.

Chinese and Indian officials are calling the direct air link a "big event" in their bilateral relationship. They say the twice-weekly flight between Beijing and New Delhi will strengthen bonds, and increase business ties between the two countries.

Over the past decade, both countries have tried to put aside years of mistrust that resulted from a brief border war in 1962, and China's traditionally friendly ties with India's rival, Pakistan.

Uday Bhaskar from the New Delhi Institute of Defense Studies and Analysis says the establishment of the commercial air link is significant. "It's also, perhaps, reflective of the way in which the Sino-Indian relationship is being stabilized, and the pace and direction in which it is currently proceeding," he said. "I think, in the last 10 years, there has been a considerable determination on both sides to take the relationship to a more stable - and to levels that are not necessarily confined to the anxieties on both sides."

In recent months, a series of high-level visits has boosted the bilateral relationship. The Chinese prime minister visited India in January, and Mr. Singh's tour will lay the groundwork for a visit by the Indian prime minister to Beijing later in the year.

Mr. Singh's talks in the Chinese capital are expected to focus on countering terrorism, the regional security situation and bilateral trade. Efforts will also be made to speed up resolution of a lingering boundary dispute between the two countries.

Mr. Singh is accompanied by a large delegation of Indian businessmen. Both sides want to triple trade between the two countries, which currently stands at nearly $3 billion.

But despite improving ties, Mr. Bhaskar says the relationship still has a long way to go. "Where they are now is a very modest perch - the scale of the two countries, their size, their economies, the level of contact is still very modest," he said.

From China, the Indian foreign minister travels to South Korea and Burma, where his discussions will focus on improving bilateral ties.