$16 b. deals pull Delhi tighter in Beijing’s orbit No progress on key issues as money rules India-China meet

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New Delhi: China and India’s premiers agreed on December 15 to double bilateral trade to $100 billion by 2015, during talks that otherwise showed no apparent progress on a series of nagging disputes.

Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh, also agreed to push Indian exports to China in an effort to bridge a current trade surplus estimated at $20 billion a year in China’s favor.

The talks came on the second day of Wen’s visit — his first to India in five years — for which he led a delegation of 400 Chinese business leaders.

Trade between the world’s two fastest-growing major economies totaled $42 billion last year and is expected to reach $60 billion in the current fiscal year to March.

“There is enough space in the world for the development of both India and China and indeed, enough areas for India and China to cooperate,” the two sides said in a joint communiqué after the meeting.

Since arriving in India, Wen’s delegation has struck deals worth $16 billion in a range of sectors from finance to power generation.

For all the focus on trade, the communiqué made no mention of any breakthrough on a host of sensitive bilateral issues that have prevented India-China relations from casting off years of suspicion and mutual distrust.

One constant thorn has been a bitter and seemingly intractable dispute over areas of their common Himalayan border, which triggered a brief but bloody war in 1962.

The December 16 meeting only managed to reaffirm a commitment to resolving the issue — already the subject of 14 rounds of fruitless talks — at “an early date.”

“The two sides shall work together to maintain peace and tranquility in the border areas in line with previous agreements,” the joint statement added.

India fears China is becoming more assertive about its territorial claims.

Beijing complained bitterly last year over visits to the northeast state of Arunachal Pradesh — which China claims in full — by Prime Minister Singh and the Dalai Lama.

Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader has lived in India since fleeing an uprising against Chinese rule that failed in 1959, and his presence in the country is an irritant for Beijing.

Police also arrested several Tibetan exiles protesting outside the venue of the talks, and at street demonstrations on December 15 effigies of Wen were burned.

Other sensitive issues include China’s close ties with India’s arch-rival Pakistan and New Delhi’s concerns that a Chinese dam on the Brahmaputra River in Tibet could disrupt water supplies downstream in India.

Singh had also been expected to seek a Chinese pledge to stop issuing special stapled visas to Indian Kashmiris visiting China — a practice India views as a denial of its sovereignty over the disputed Himalayan region.

Several commentators had called on Singh to take a tough line with his guest, saying India has been too accommodating of Chinese provocations in the past.

“Successive Indian governments have tried to cast aside irritants and make nice with China,” said Brahma Chellaney, author of Asian Juggernaut: The Rise of China, India and Japan.

“But that clearly hasn’t worked. In fact, the feckless approach has only encouraged Beijing to up the ante by finding new ways to needle India,” Chellaney said.

Speaking to reporters before his meeting with Singh, Wen said he wanted to reach an “important strategic consensus” during the visit.

China has been reluctant to back India’s drive for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, but the December 16 communiqué stated its support for India to “play a greater role” at the world body.

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