Border issue on agenda as Chinese premier arrives

New Delhi, May 19 (IANS) Chinese Premier Li Keqiang arrived here Sunday on a three-day state visit during which he will hold talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on many issues, including the recent border row.

This is Li’s first overseas trip after he took office in March.

Li, who touched down late Sunday afternoon, was received warmly by Minister of State for External Affairs E. Ahamed at the Indian Air Force station, near the Indira Gandhi International Airport, where VVIP flights land.

Li, who waved lustily on arrival but made no opening remarks, is heading an 80-member delegation that includes Foreign Minister Wang Yi, said a Chinese diplomat. From India, Li will go to Pakistan, Switzerland and Germany.

Li and Singh will hold restricted talks – minus their delegations – Sunday evening. Singh will also host a private dinner.

On Monday, Li will hold delegation level talks with the prime minister at the Hyderabad House after which the two sides are expected to sign some agreements.

The Chinese leader is to proceed for Mumbai Tuesday afternoon (May 21) and from there fly to Pakistan the following day.

Li is in India at the invitation of Manmohan Singh, who met Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the BRICS Summit in South Africa in March.

The visit comes days after a Sino-Indian border stand-off was resolved. Chinese troops intruded some 19 km inside the Line of Actual Control (LAC) – the de-facto border – April 15 and pitched tents.

The row ended May 5 after several rounds of negotiations – military and diplomatic – with both sides reverting to the position that existed before April 15.

The issue led to tensions. It is likely to be discussed when Li and Singh hold restricted talks – minus their delegations – Sunday evening. Singh is also to host a private dinner for the visiting dignitary.

Beijing’s proposed border defence cooperation agreement, to which New Delhi has made suggestions to be included in the draft, is also likely to figure in the talks. Officials of both sides are discussing the draft.

“Everything would be on the table when the two premiers meet,” an Indian official said.

A joint mechanism for monitoring the flow of the Brahmaputra river, which flows from Tibet downstream to India, is also likely to figure.

India has voiced concern over a number of dams being built by Beijing on the upper reaches of the Brahmaputra, or Yarlung Tsangpo as it is called.

The trade imbalance is also likely to be taken up.

India is to press for market access in pharmaceuticals and IT. Bilateral trade was $66 billion last year as China became India’s second largest trading partner.

The trade imbalance stands at $28.87 billion, in favour of China.

Both countries are expected to discuss regional and international issues, including Afghanistan from where US-NATO troops are preparing to withdraw.

Xinhua news agency Saturday said the choice of India as the first leg of Li’s maiden overseas visit has sent out a clear signal that Beijing’s new leadership prioritizes enhancing ties with New Delhi.

But it warned that “the two nations cannot fully restore mutual trust without resolving the border dispute”.

The Chinese embassy has been fortified to foil possible protests by Tibetan residents. India is home to some 100,000 Tibetans including the Dalai Lama, who is now in the US.

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