By Frank Jack Daniel
NEW DELHI May 20 Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is
seeking to build trust with India on his first foreign trip
since taking office, which comes just a few weeks after a
military standoff between the Asian giants on their ill-defined
border in the Himalayan mountains.
The number two in the Chinese leadership offered India a
"handshake across the Himalayas" in an editorial published on
Monday in The Hindu newspaper and said that together the
emerging economic giants could become a new engine of the world
China and India disagree about large areas on their 4,000-km
(2,500-mile) -long border and fought a brief but bloody war 50
years ago. There has not been a shooting incident in decades,
but the long-running dispute gets in the way of improving
economic relations between the world's two most populous
The editorial was part of a media campaign apparently aimed
at cooling Indian public anger against China following the
three-week standoff on a freezing Himalayan plateau that ended
on May 3.
In an impromptu speech after an official welcome ceremony at
India's colonial-era presidential palace on Monday, a
relaxed-looking Li stood with India's Prime Minister Manmohan
Singh and said he wanted to build trust and cooperation on his
"World peace and regional stability cannot be a reality
without strategic mutual trust between India and China. And
likewise, the development and prosperity of the world cannot be
a reality without the cooperation and simultaneous development
of China and India," he said.
The two leaders held closed-door talks on Sunday, shortly
after Li arrived in the Indian capital.
Singh told Li that friction on the border could affect
relations. He pressed his counterpart to do more to redress a
trade imbalance that has left a $29 billion deficit with China
at a time India is struggling with a record current account gap
that has emerged as its main economic weak point.
The latest incident distracted diplomats' attention from
negotiations on investment and trade ahead of Li's trip and
soured Indian public opinion toward China.
Also raised in the meeting was the issue of the Dalai Lama,
who China considers a separatist and who lives in exile in
India repeated its position that the Dalai Lama is a
spiritual and religious leader, a senior Indian government
official said. On Monday, a protester dodged tight security to
unfurl a banner saying "Tibet will be free" in front of the
hotel where Li is staying in Delhi.
Bilateral trade between the two countries touched $73
billion in 2011, making China India's largest trade partner, but
slipped to $66 billion last year.
Singh told Li it was important to balance out trade as the
two countries aim for $100 billion in bilateral trade by 2015.
"While we are committed to the $100 billion by 2015 we will
have to have a more balanced rate," said the senior government
official, who was briefed about the restricted meeting.
India is pressing for greater access for its pharmaceuticals
and IT services.
The official described the conversations as constructive and
cordial. Earlier statements from Chinese officials have given
some hope that India's gripes are being heard.
"China attaches great importance to the China-India trade
deficit issue. We are willing to expand our market for India's
products and provide facilitation," deputy foreign minister Song
Tao said last week.
Up from next to nothing in the 1990s, trade has been heavily
skewed in favour of China. It exports power and telecoms
equipment to its neighbour, which as one of the world's fastest
growing major economies could offer brighter opportunities for
business than the stagnant West.
Li said trade, an economic corridor and industrial loans
would feature in the talks being held on Monday. A joint
statement is due to be signed later in the day.
Prior to the visit, Li said he chose his first destination
on the four-nation tour to show how important India is for China
and also because he had fond memories of visiting as a Communist
youth leader 27 years ago.
India's Economic Times newspaper said the Essar Group
conglomerate would sign a financial agreement with China's China
Development Bank and China's largest oil and gas producer
PetroChina Company during the
After India, Li is due to visit Pakistan, Switzerland and
Germany and is likely to carry a message that China wants more
open foreign relations and should not be seen as a threat.
"We stand ready to embrace the world with a more open mind
and hope that the world will view China with a calm frame of
mind," he wrote in the editorial.