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Ties with China priority of India foreign policy

Beijing: India today told China that it sees improving bilateral ties as a priority of its foreign policy and expressed desire to expand strategic cooperation, setting aside concerns here over future direction of the relations in the backdrop of the big US push into the Asia-Pacific region.

Conveying a strong message about India`s intention to firm up ties with China, visiting External Affairs Minister S M Krishna told Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang that it is important for both the countries to build trust and understanding to maintain strong and healthy relationship.

"I conveyed to him that our relations with China are a priority in India`s foreign policy and we believe that India-China relations will be one of the most important bilateral relationships in the 21st century," Krishna told the Indian media here after a 45-minute meeting with Li, who is widely tipped to take over as Prime Minister next year after the leadership change in the ruling CPC.

"I indicated that India desires to expand the strategic and cooperative partnership that exists between our countries. It is important for us to continue building better understanding and trust between us since that will help to maintain a strong and healthy relationship between India and China," he said.

His assertion about India`s desire to build friendship with China comes after US announcement about a major push into the Asia-Pacific, specially the South China Sea, where China is grappling with maritime disputes with a host of countries. Chinese analysts feel that the US is wooing India in a bid to counter China`s growing influence in Asia-Pacific.

US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, who announced Washington`s plans to deploy 60 per cent of US naval assets in the Asia-Pacific in the next few years raising strong concerns in Beijing, is currently in India seeking to strength US-India military ties. Asked whether the US policy of Asia Pivot figured in the talks and what was his message to the Chinese leadership, Krishna said his discussions centred on the "bigger picture" of improving bilateral ties in the light of leadership changes coming up in China.

On the South China Sea, Krishna said "India`s position is very clear. These are all international waterways to increase trade amongst nations, hence we will have to look at it from that angle. We have to strengthen that angle," he said, adding India is willing to cooperate with other countries so that the trade relations will get a boost through these waterways.

The Indian minister, who is here to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit, said he utilised the meeting with Li to understand how the new and younger Chinese leadership thinks about future direction of India-China ties. Li is set to assume higher responsibilities, Krishna said referring to reports that Li is set to take over as Premier after incumbent Wen Jiabao`s retirement this year.

"We discussed the bigger picture, the vision that the Vice Premier has for India-China relationship and what he feels, what he believes to be the agenda for the next decade," Krishna said. "So I think it was like a peep into the future with the Vice Premier being the head of the government here in the policy-making process. That way I feel very encouraged," he said. Krishna said he invited Li to visit India and the Chinese leader responded by saying that he had visited the country in 1985 as a youth Communist activist.

"India is not the same as it was in 1985, so I look forward to his (Li`s) visit to India at his convenience," he said. On India`s membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation which is pending along with that of Pakistan and Mongolia, Krishna said "We have been coming to SCO since 2005 as observers and we have made known our seriousness in our association with this very important grouping."

Krishna said India`s track record with other groupings is well known and added that finalisation of the membership in the China-backed forum will come after completion of modalities, terms and conditions under which the new members could be admitted. SCO members are Russia, China, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Pakistan, India, Iran and Mongolia have the observer status and Turkmenistan and Afghanistan attend SCO gatherings as guest nations, while Belarus and Sri Lanka have the status of dialogue partners.

In his talks with Li, Krishna also sought China`s participation in the massive infrastructure projects undertaken by India and assured him of creating a level- playing field for Chinese companies in the international bidding process. He also asked China to address the trade imbalance between the two countries. India-China trade has gone up to USD 74 billion but it is heavily tilted towards China.

The Chinese Vice Premier was positive in his response, Krishna said, adding that the Chinese government is encouraging Chinese companies to invest in India, especially in infrastructure. "He (Li) agreed that for trade to be sustainable it has to be balanced," Krishna said. The Indian minister is due to meet his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi tomorrow during which, he said, he would discuss the issue of two Indian traders, Shyam Sunder Agrawal and Deepak Rajeja, who have been stranded here.

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