Singh arrives to heal tensions, combine forces

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BEIJING (Agence France-Presse) — Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrived here yesterday for talks with China’s leaders as the two most populous nations look to turn their combined clout into a major force in global affairs.

It is the first visit by an Indian prime minister in five years as the Asian powerhouses, which account for one-third of the world’s people, try to set aside lingering disputes and establish a partnership on the international stage.

India-China relations have today transcended their bilateral dimension and have acquired global and strategic significance,” Mr. Singh told China’s state Xinhua news agency before the trip.

He said he hopes to discuss a wide range of issues with Chinese leaders, including U.N. reforms, regional dialogue and global issues such as climate change, energy security, international trade and counterterrorism.

Upon arrival, Mr. Singh visited an Olympic venue as part of the three-day trip before holding talks with his counterpart Wen Jiabao and President Hu Jintao today and tomorrow, a Chinese official said.

“Beijing’s preparations for the Olympics is a source of inspiration for India,” Xinhua news agency quoted Mr. Singh as saying as he viewed an exhibition hall for the games.

Five agreements are to be signed during the visit, including pacts covering railways, housing and traditional medicine, officials said, as the two nations look to deepen ties and overcome decades of mistrust.

India has long been wary of China’s close ties to its neighbors Pakistan and Burma, both of which benefit from strong military support and economic aid and investment from Beijing.

China and India also have competed for resources in Burma, officially known as Myanmar, in recent years, with Chinese companies beating their Indian rivals for lucrative gas and pipeline contracts in the isolated Southeast Asian state.

Along with Mr. Singh, India is sending Commerce Minister Kamal Nath to lead a trade delegation, with New Delhi looking to rein in a trade gap with China that it says has jumped from $4 billion to $9 billion since 2006.

“We would like to sell much more to China,” Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon told journalists before the group left New Delhi.

“In the last few years, trade shifted in China’s favor, and we are hoping to change that,” he said.

The nations agreed in November 2006 to double trade to $40 billion by 2010. According to Chinese statistics, bilateral trade amounted to $34.2 billion from January to November in 2007.

Officials said the two sides also will work on a long-standing territorial dispute, which led to a brief war in 1962.

In his interview, Mr. Singh said that settlement of the boundary would “advance the basic interests of the two countries and should therefore be pursued as a strategic objective.”

India says China occupies 14,670 square miles of its territory, while Beijing claims the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh.

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