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India, China Aim to Boost Economic Ties - 2003-06-23


China and India hope to boost their fast-growing economic ties as India's prime minister visits Beijing for the first time in a decade. Chinese officials say the two sides should put aside difficult border disputes and focus on building prosperity and political ties.

Ceremonial music and cannon salutes honoring visiting Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee echoed off the Great Hall of the People and across Tiananmen Square Monday as China's Prime Minister Wen Jiabao greeted his Indian counterpart.

Mr. Vajpayee thanked his hosts for the warm welcome, and said he hoped to boost friendship and trust.

The two leaders looked on as lower level officials signed a series of agreements covering everything from mango exports to making it easier to get visas to travel between the two nations.

Sino-Indian trade has already grown from a few hundred million dollars a year to $5 billion over the past several years, and Chinese officials hope to double that figure quickly.

A top Chinese expert on Indian affairs, Sun Shihai of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, says growing commercial interests will translate into improved political ties. "This will help build mutual trust between the two Countries, which is the main obstacle of the development of relations between India and China."

There is lingering distrust between the nuclear-armed neighbors, which together account for one third of the world's population. At issue are land disputes along their 3,500 kilometer border. China claims 90,000 square kilometers in the eastern state or Arunachal Pradesh. India accuses Beijing of occupying 38,000 square kilometers of land in Kashmir. The border dispute flared into war back in 1962, and a long series of talks have not produced an agreement on permanent borders. Analysts and officials say the two sides will talk about the border issue, but don't expect any reakthroughs.

But both India and China say their growing commercial and political relations mean the border dispute is no longer the only issue that defines their ties.

Prime Minister Vajpayee is also scheduled to meet with China's new President Hu Jintao and former president, Jiang Zemin, who now heads China's military.

Mr. Vajpayee's visit continues until June 27, with stops in the ancient Chinese city of Luoyang, and China's ultra-modern commercial hub, Shanghai.

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