China, India Appeal for Deeper Ties, Not Tensions

By Ravi Nessman | December 16, 2010 | 6:57 AM EST

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh welcomes Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to the the Presidential Palace in New Delhi on Thursday, Dec. 16, 2010. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

New Delhi (AP) - The leaders of India and China called Thursday for a stronger partnership, a huge increase in trade and even the creation of an emergency hotline as they stressed a spirit of cooperation -- not competition -- between Asia's two rising powers.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's three-day trip to India was aimed at building trust and strengthening economic links. It also appeared part of a Chinese effort to blunt U.S. influence in India.

"I hope that my visit will help increase our cooperation in a wide range of fields and raise our friendship and cooperation to an even higher level," he told reporters after a ceremonial welcome at the presidential palace.

Little movement appeared to have been made on the key issues of concern to India -- opening Chinese markets, resolving a border dispute and pressuring Pakistan to root out anti-Indian militants. But the two sides said they were satisfied simply to deepen their relationship.

"A strong partnership between India and China will contribute to long-term peace, stability, prosperity and development in Asia and the world," Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said.

At their meeting Thursday, their 11th over the past five years, Wen and Singh agreed to work to increase trade between the two countries from $60 billion a year to $100 billion by 2015, according to a joint communique.

China is India's largest trading partner, but the flow of goods is weighted heavily toward Chinese imports here. The two sides agreed to work to reduce that trade gap, though India failed to persuade China to lift restrictions on the import of Indian software, agricultural products and pharmaceuticals.

They also discussed India's tense relations with Pakistan, a close Chinese ally that Wen will visit after leaving New Delhi on Friday, according to Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao.

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu expressed hopes for improved relations between India and Pakistan, while making no commitment to pressure Pakistan.

"Both India and Pakistan are China's neighbors. We sincerely hope the two countries can coexist in friendship and contribute to regional peace and development," Yu said.

Singh and Wen also agreed to push forward with efforts to peacefully resolve their nations' lingering border disputes -- which erupted into a brief war in 1962 -- and announced a telephone hotline between the two premiers that was inaugurated several days ago. The leaders also agreed to meet more frequently and to have their foreign ministers meet once a year.

A series of agreements were also signed on banking ties, sharing green technology and media exchanges.

While making public expressions of friendship -- Singh accepted Wen's invitation to visit China next year -- tensions remain between the two neighbors.

India was annoyed by China's recent refusal to stamp visas in passports of residents of Indian-held Kashmir, a move seen as questioning New Delhi's sovereignty over the restive region also claimed by Pakistan.

The issue came up at the meeting Thursday. Wen said he took India's concerns seriously and offered to hold joint consultations on the issue, Rao said.

China, seeking influence around Asia, has irked India by expanding ties with Indian neighbors, including Sri Lanka, Nepal and archrival Pakistan.

China, for its part, resents the presence in India of the self-declared Tibetan government-in-exile and the Dalai Lama. Tibetan activists protested Wen's visit on Wednesday and Thursday.

The two countries have also been competing over resources and global markets.

China's state-run Global Times newspaper dismissed concerns of tensions between the world's two most populous countries.

"Compared to promoting prosperity, the border disputes are not the most urgent item on either country's agenda," the newspaper said. "Both countries endeavor to build a strong economy, whereas neither thinks about hegemony in Asia. Both are seeking further modernization and first-class civil livelihood."

Despite their disputes, India and China have worked together internationally on climate change issues and for a greater say in global finance.

Upon his arrival in India on Wednesday, Wen stressed the growing financial and cultural ties between the countries by visiting an Indian school to discuss the Chinese language and calligraphy, and by addressing a gathering of business leaders. Wen brought 300 Chinese business officials with him on his trip, and Indian and Chinese companies are signing $16 billion worth of deals during his visit.