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May 31, 2000
Improve economic ties: Prez tells Zhu
Nikhil Lakshman in Dalian
Both President K R Narayanan and Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji agreed on Wednesday morning about the need to improve economic relations between both countries.
At his last official meeting in Beijing before flying for the economic powerhouse of Dalian in north-east China, Narayanan told his Chinese host that though India and China had shared an association for thousands of years, the relationship lacked deep economic content. Trade between India and China stood at a paltry $ 2 billion last year.
Praising Zhu - China's Great Reformer - as the economic genius who has turned China around, the President added that though economic exchanges had increased, Sino-Indian economic potential had not reached its true potential. Cultural and political relations needed to be fortified by economic relations, Narayanan added.
Agreeing with the President, the Chinese premier said India and China had moments of conflict due to third parties and issues left over by history. "The time had come to renew our relations from generation to generation," Zhu is reported to have said.
Yet again on this visit, a Chinese leader referred to India's successful software industry and mentioned how China could learn from that experience.
On the political side, Narayanan said Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had asked him to remind Zhu about the long pending invitation to visit India. Zhu, who last visited India in 1984 as the head of a Chinese energy delegation and was amazed by the Taj Mahal, said he would be delighted to visit India again.
In a visit high on symbolism, the Indian side is believed to be encouraged by the distinct change in attitude displayed by the Chinese leadership. Once again, analysts revealed how the Chinese had displayed a greater responsiveness to suggestions. "There was no attempt to speak for the record, lest any negative comment queer the pitch for future discussions. There was no rancour, no going through the entire catalogue of positions," one observer said.
That the nuclear issue was not discussed, the observer said, was a "good sign." Using a word that has come to be a refrain through the visit, he added, that the "atmospherics" of Sino-Indian relations was in the right direction.
One consequence of this new bonhomie is that meetings between senior Chinese and Indian leaders will become more frequent. When External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh visited Beijing last June, it was the first visit by an Indian foreign minister in eight years; this is the first Presidential visit in eight years. The last Chinese leader to visit India was President Jiang Zemin in December 1996. Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan is now scheduled to visit India later this year (apart from meeting Singh at the ASEAN foreign ministers conference in July), and Zhu may visit India sometime next year.
Indian diplomats believe frequent encounters between the Indian and Chinese leadership - though, the annual summits the Chinese favour for their ASEAN neighbours is clearly some way off - could enhance the process of normalising an often troubled relationship.
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