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Indian PM seeks China ties boost

By Willy Wo-Lap Lam, CNN Senior China Analyst

Vajpayee's agenda is dominated by business deals.
Vajpayee's agenda is dominated by business deals.

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Trade talks and a border dispute are set to dominate the Indian Prime Minister's state visit to Beijing.
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HONG KONG, China (CNN) -- Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee is in Beijing on the start of a China trip expected to usher in a new era of "good neighborly relationship" between the two countries.

Vajpayee, the first Indian head of government to visit China in ten years, is meeting with top leaders including President Hu Jintao, Vice-President Zeng Qinghong and Premier Wen Jiabao, on Monday and Tuesday.

Two-way trade -- now at the $5 billion dollar mark and projected to double in five years -- and economic ties are expected to dominate the Vajpayee's visit.

Apart from signing cooperative agreements in areas including culture, justice and energy, Chinese scholars say the six-day tour could mark the "second normalization of relations" between the two giant neighbors.

The official media quoted National Defense University specialist Meng Xiangqing as saying both nations were eager to pursue a "diplomacy of good neighborliness."

China and India fought a brief war in the early 1960s, and talks over the de-lineation of the 2,000-kilometer long boundary have proceeded slowly.

However, Meng indicated "both countries' stances on ways to solve the border problem are getting closer" and Vajpayee's visit could help speed up the border talks.

Other analysts have argued that another irritant in bilateral ties -- the Tibet question -- has subsided to some extent with the recent visit to China by senior emissaries of the exiled Dalai Lama.

China threat theory

Sino-Indian ties are rapidly improving.
Sino-Indian ties are rapidly improving.

Moreover, there are signs the "China threat theory," which was popular in India in the late 1990s, may be losing its bite.

The official China News Service (CNS) pointed out in a commentary on Monday that India's recent donation of funds to help China fight the SARS epidemic was an indication of New Delhi's desire to boost ties.

"Handling well relations with a country on its southwest border that is seeking world-power status will be beneficial to China's safeguarding its economic construction and social development," CNS said.

Western diplomatic analysts said Beijing was eager to improve relations with once-hostile countries including India and Vietnam so as to counter America's perceived "anti-China containment policy."

The analysts said the importance of Sino-Indian friendship had increased because of the dramatic enhancement in India's ties with the U.S. since 2001.

Vajpayee is leading a large delegation of businessmen, who are expected to discuss ventures with Chinese counterparts in areas including software, agriculture, and bio-technology.

In a pre-departure interview with the official Chinese Xinhua news agency, Vajpayee said both countries had "successfully developed mutually beneficial cooperation" while working hard to defuse differences.

The Indian leader said the two countries had extended their dialogue and cooperation to new areas such as countering terrorism, regional security as well as the environment and sustained development.

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