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China extends warm welcome to Fernandes
Anil K Joseph in Beijing | April 21, 2003 10:54 IST
China on Monday accorded a red carpet welcome to Defence Minister George Fernandes who kicked off high-level talks with the Chinese military on bilateral ties, and regional and international issues of common concern.
Fernandes, who is on his maiden trip to China, was given a ceremonial guard of honour by the People's Liberation Army (PLA) at the headquarters of the Central Military Commission in Beijing.
The defence minister, attired in a traditional bandh gala outfit was given a warm welcome by his Chinese counterpart General Cao Gangchuan.
Fernandes and Gen Cao then inspected a guard of honour by a smartly turned out tri-service PLA marching contingent.
Following the official welcoming ceremony, the two sides entered the massive and spanking CMC building and started official-level talks.
Warmly welcoming Fernandes on his first visit, Cao, who is also a state councillor (senior cabinet minister), said the Chinese government and the CMC/PLA attached great importance to the visit by an Indian defence minister, which is coming after a gap of over a decade.
"We are happy to see you here and during the meeting, I hope to exchange views with you on issues of common interest," he said.
Reciprocating the warm reception to him and the high-level Indian delegation, Fernandes said he could not visit China much earlier due to certain reasons.
During the course of the day, the two sides would focus on bilateral ties, especially how to strengthen military-to-military ties, the situation in South Asia, Pakistan's support to cross-border terrorism, the war in Iraq and other issues of strategic importance to both nations.
Fernandes is visiting China at a time when Beijing is hit by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which has killed 18 people and over 80 nationwide.
Apart from official level talks with Gen Cao, Fernandes will also call on CMC chairman and former president Jiang Zemin, Premier Wen Jiabao and other senior leaders.
He would be first Indian leader to meet with China's new communist party and government leaders who took charge of the party and government in November last year and in March this year, respectively.
Apart from Beijing, Fernandes would visit some other Chinese cities and interact with the three wings of the 2.5-million-strong People's Liberation Army (PLA), the world's largest standing army.
The week-long visit is seen as a prelude to the much-talked about trip by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee later this year.
The defence minister is heading a 16-member high level delegation, which includes Defence Secretary Subir Dutta, Secretary (Defence Production) N S Sisodhia, Vice Chief of Army Staff Lt Gen Shantanu Choudhary, Deputy Chief of Naval Staff Vice Admiral R Gopalachary and top officials of the ministries of defence and external affairs.
More reports from China