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Indian Prime Minister to Visit China

Anjana Pasricha

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh begins a three-day visit to China Sunday to boost relations with its giant Asian neighbor. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, the high profile visit is part of efforts by both countries to overcome decades of mistrust.

As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh prepared to meet senior Chinese leaders in Beijing next week, India underlined the importance it attaches to the visit.

The Indian leader called engagement with China an "imperative necessity."

Indian Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon said the visit will help both sides to seek "ways forward in the relationship."

"For us China is our largest neighbor, a neighbor with whom relations have developed rapidly since 1988 when we addressed the difficult issues, and also laid out the path for the future development of the relationship," he said.

In recent years, both countries have made concerted efforts to overcome traditional mistrust which has bedeviled relations since they fought a brief border war in 1962.

They regularly exchange high-profile visits and a strategic partnership was announced three years ago.

The most visible sign of progress is in the economic relationship, which will be high on the Indian prime minister's agenda. Bilateral trade exceeded $37 billion last year, and is growing at a faster-than-expected pace. The two sides are expected to explore the possibility of a regional trade agreement during the visit.

India and China, which are the world's most populous nations and have fast developing economies, will discuss issues of common concern such as energy security and climate change.

Officials say a long-pending boundary dispute will also come up for discussion. Foreign Secretary Menon says the border dispute is not affecting growing political ties.

"As of now we are comfortable with our relationship with China, we think it has made good progress, we think both sides are determined to settle the boundary question., and we are both successful in maintaining peace and tranquility along the border," said Menon.

However, Alka Acharya, head of East Asian Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University says wariness between the neighbors is still strong, largely because of the slow progress in resolving the boundary dispute.

"It is a slowly, incrementally kind of improving relationship that we are seeing, and it is only right that we should not expect miracles," said Acharya. "The major hurdles or complex issues in the relationship continue to still plague it in terms of unsettled boundary, mistrust and strategic kind of mismatch."

Other differences remain. India is unhappy that the balance of trade is in China's favor, and officials say "we would like to sell much more to China." China complains of barriers to direct investment in India.

India and China are expected to sign five pacts in the fields of land management, housing, traditional medicine, railways and geosciences during the visit.

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