Home India News India, China sign 11 agreements, Manmohan calls visit a milestone

India, China sign 11 agreements, Manmohan calls visit a milestone

By Tarun Basu and M.R. Narayan Swamy, IANS

Beijing : India and China, two of the world’s fastest growing economies, Monday decided to give a major push to their ties by signing 11 wide-ranging agreements, tripling a trade target within four years and deepening a defence engagement that was till a few years ago unthinkable between the wary Asian neighbours.

The two nations, in a joint statement issued after talks between visiting Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao, also decided not to let their five-decade border dispute cloud the growth in their relationship and instructed their officials to set a deadline for “arriving at an agreed framework of settlement” to the problem.

Manmohan Singh later called the statement “an important milestone in the evolution of our relations”.

The most important decision taken was no doubt to set an ambitious two-way trade target of $60 billion by 2010 – reflecting their confidence to make business the primary idiom and pivot of rapidly expanding ties.

The previous target of $40 billion by 2010 is expected to be reached this year itself while the target of $20 billion for 2008 was reached in 2006. Manmohan Singh, in his address at the China-India Business Summit earlier in the day, said both countries needed to have a “strategic plan” as they “stand poised to regain their weight in the global economy”.

Indian Commerce and Industry Minister Kamal Nath echoed similar sentiments when he talked about the looming prospect of Indian and Chinese business setting the economic agenda of the world within a decade – after a long period of Western dominance best exemplified by the dictum “when America sneezed, the rest of the world caught a cold”.

While instructing their officials to conclude “at an early date” a framework for settlement of their differences over large tracts of their winding boundary that led to a war 45 years ago, both countries declared in what they grandly called “A Shared Vision for the 21st Century” that it was time the two Asian giants – who account for a third of humanity – built “a relationship of friendship and trust” while being “sensitive to the concerns and aspirations” of one another.

The joint statement said their countries were “firmly committed to resolving outstanding differences, including on the boundary question, through peaceful negotiations”.

“The two sides reiterate that India-China friendship and common development will have a positive influence on the future of the international system. India-China relations are not targeted at any country, nor will it affect their friendship with other countries,” said the statement whose every line is likely to be carefully scanned in world capitals.

The agreements signed cover a wide spectrum, from economic planning to housing, health and culture in measures that are expected to give a foundation to their relationship that has often been seen through the prism of their dragging boundary dispute and perceived economic rivalry as their respective economies become the fastest growing in the world.

Declaring that Sino-Indian relations were of “global significance”, Manmohan Singh said he and Wen Jiabao had agreed to deepen “the mutual understanding and trust between our armed forces” – another significant decision between armies that not too long ago engaged in eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation on icy Himalayan slopes.

“We welcomed the successful conclusion of our first joint military training exercise (in China), and agreed to hold a second exercise in India this year,” the prime minister said on the penultimate day of his maiden, three-day visit to Beijing.

The two sides had held the first Joint Military Training Exercise in the Chinese city of Kumming last month and decided to hold a second one in India later this year. A second India-China Defence Dialogue will also be held in 2008 to further the military understanding between the countries.

Among other decisions taken during Manmohan Singh’s visit, the foreign minister of India will travel to China in the first half of this year while his Chinese counterpart will journey to New Delhi in the latter half to maintain the momentum of their diplomatic engagement.

Other senior leaders from both countries would also exchange visits.

“The two sides are convinced that it is time to look to the future in building a relationship of friendship and trust, based on equality, in which each is sensitive to the concerns and aspirations of the other,” the joint statement of the two leaders said.

And they made it clear that their relations were not targeted at any country nor would it affect their friendship with other nations.